City poised to go ahead with water plant: Indianapolis IN Star, 9/29/07

Site to be atop mining operation; land's price unclear as 2nd legal fight goes on

By Francesca Jarosz

The city cleared the way this week to build a water treatment facility on land owned by materials supplier Martin Marietta.

After a yearlong legal battle over the property on the southeast corner of 106th Street and Gray Road, city and company officials agreed to let Carmel build the facility, while the sand and gravel mining operation continues underneath.

In September 2006, Carmel's Board of Public Works and Safety made an offer to Martin Marietta to buy 30 acres to build a treatment facility that would help serve the Carmel-Clay area.

But a Martin Marietta spokesman said the firm didn't want to give up the land or the mine operation underneath it.

Last October, when a deal hadn't been struck, Carmel sued to acquire the land by eminent domain, which lets municipalities condemn land for a public use.

This week, the parties approved a partial agreement. The price of the property remains unsettled, though. The city's initial offer was $960,000 for the 30 acres. Its current offer for 20 acres is $640,000.

If there is no price agreement in eminent domain cases, three independent appraisers are hired to estimate the value of the property. The average of those appraisals is the final price.

While what the city ultimately pays could be determined in court, it is moving ahead with plans for the facility.

As a next step, the city will inspect the property before advancing with plans for the facility.

"It's an ongoing process," said John Duffy, Carmel's utilities director. "This is one step in the process."

Pending inspections, Duffy said the treatment facility, which would cost an estimated $25 million, would be under way in about two years.

Duffy said the purpose of the eminent domain lawsuit was to set a timetable for acquiring the property.

The site, he said, was ideal for the treatment plant because of its proximity to a groundwater source and easy access to utilities.

But Wayne Phears, a spokesman for Martin Marietta, said the company never wanted to sell the property.

One of its major concerns, Phears said, was letting the city inspect the property while the company is engaged in another legal battle against the city's regulations of its mining operation.

"They said, 'We want to buy your property, but we need to go into your mine to see if it's suitable,' " Phears said. "It's like having your opponent come in and get all your information."

The company has pending litigation against the city in U.S. District Court for Southern Indiana and Hamilton Superior Court related to the city's denial of the company's request to expand its mining.

The lawsuits filed by Martin Marietta claim the denial by the city's zoning board was illegal and accuse Mayor Jim Brainard of playing politics to stop the company from expanding.

As part of this week's deal, both parties agreed that neither would use information they obtained for other purposes.

Indianapolis IN Star: http://www.indystar.com