Saratoga County has started eminent domain proceedings aimed at seizing right-of-way for its $67 million water project from reluctant property owners.
The Saratoga County Water Authority voted Thursday to hold a public hearing, an early step in the eminent domain process, at 7 p.m. Monday Aug. 20 at Wilton Town Hall on Traver Road.
"We respect these people's property rights," Authority chairman and Waterford Town Supervisor John Lawler said. "But at the end of the day they have to realize that their property will be used for this project. It is for the public good."
Mark Schachner, the authority's attorney for eminent-domain matters, said the county can still negotiate with property owners after starting the process. The county hired Schachner, of the firm Miller, Mannix, Schachner & Hafner in Glens Falls, Thursday.
As of Thursday, the Saratoga County Water Authority had seven property owners who have outright refused the county's overtures at purchasing easements across their land for the pipeline, said Wes Carr, a Water Authority staff member. Another 14 property owners haven't responded to letters and phone calls from the county, six of those are businesses.
In contrast, 67 property owners have already signed deals with the county and another 19 are expected to sign shortly. Five property owners are getting their own appraisals done to find the value of the easements the county wants to buy from them.
County Attorney Mark Rider has said that the county doesn't need to buy land outright, only permanent easements allowing it to run pipes under the ground and have access for repairs. In some places, the county only needs a temporary easement for access during construction.
That's the case on Eastman Lane, a short jughandle road on Route 29 in Saratoga Springs near the railroad yard. Carr said seven property owners there have yet to agree to give the county access.
Milton Supervisor Frank Thompson said he plans to meet with residents there even though it's not in his town, as he knows many of them. He said it'll take one-on-one meetings for the Authority to avoid litigation but the Water Authority hasn't helped itself.
He told of one property owner, an 83-year-old woman, who had come to him after getting letters from the county. He said he'd explained the process to her and almost had her ready to agree when contractors on the job came on her property without permission, and without an easement, and removed trees.
"They called her and offered to walk the property with her," Thompson said. "You're not going to get an 83-year-old woman to go tromping around the woods."
Workers have already begun site work on the project, mostly for the treatment plant in Moreau. The Authority also rented office space in Ballston Spa and members discussed hiring an executive director.
Construction should take 1-1/2 to two years, putting it in line with AMD's planned timetable. The county plans to build a treatment plant and water intake on the upper Hudson River in Moreau then pipe the water south along Route 9 to Luther Forest, the proposed site of an Advanced Micro Devices computer chip plant.
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