Town will pursue eminent domain over sewer line

ajames@newsobserver.comJuly 19, 2013 

— The town is threatening eminent domain to obtain land easements needed for a sewer line that will connect Clayton to Raleigh.

At its meeting on Monday, the town council agreed to pursue eminent domain for the land. That means Clayton will get the easements, and a mediation panel, or perhaps a jury, and will decide how much the town has to pay the six property owners who declined offers.

Since the fall, the town has been negotiating with 41 property owners for easements needed for a sewer line that will carry up to 1 million gallons daily to a City of Raleigh sewage-treatment plant.

The town made offers to the property owners based on values determined by an independent appraiser. The amounts varied based on the linear feet of easement and whether the easement would have a manhole or air-release valve. The offers ranged from $500 to $3,900.

Thirty-five property owners said yes; six said no.

A couple on Kentucky Derby Drive, off of Shotwell Road, said they refused the town’s offer because they’re worried the sewer line will harm their property’s value.

“We’re not going to settle for the amount they offered,” said Thomas Dees Brown.

On the Browns’ land, the sewer line will have a manhole with an air-release value. Brown is worried that it could emit an odor.

The town doesn’t dispute that.

“There is a possibility an odor could come out, but we are taking all of the steps to prevent that from happening,” said Stacy Beard, the town’s public information officer.

Air scrubbers on the manhole would work to curb any odor, the town says. In all, Clayton sewer lines have 30 air-release valves, and Town Manager Steve Biggs said he has heard no complaints about them emitting an odor.

Offer too low

For Brown though, the possibility of living with an odor means he should get more money than the $1,450 the town offered. He wants more than four times that amount.

“I have children that play in my backyard, we’ve got a swimming pool and grill out back there,” Brown said.

Now a panel of mediators will likely decide how much money Brown gets.

Beard said the town will send letters to the holdout property owners letting them know that mediation is the next step if they still refuse to grant the easements.

At that point, the town will place the money it offered each property owner in the Clerk of Court’s office. The property owners can claim the money if they want. If not, a panel of three county commissioners will decide whether the town’s offer was fair or whether the property owners should get more money.

Biggs said the town has an obligation to spend taxpayer money wisely, so it’s going to offer only what it considers to be fair compensation for the easements.

“We have a responsibility to not overpay because it is the public’s money,” Biggs said.

If either the town or property owner objects to the price agreed upon by county commissioners, the case will go to a jury trial.

Disputes over imminent domain rarely reach that level.

Years in the making

Town leaders first began talking about the Clayton-to-Raleigh sewer line in 2005.

Because of population growth, Clayton had reached the limits of its sewage-treatment capacity and struck a deal with Raleigh. Since then, the need hasn’t been pressing because Clayton’s population has slowed because of the recession.

Last year, however, the town council identified the sewer line as a high-priority project. It has secured a $4 million federal loan for the five-mile line.

Biggs said the town chose a path mostly along existing easements for power lines. “The opportunity to run this infrastructure within an area of an existing easement is certainly ideal, and usually a project is more disruptive than this will be,” he said.

But for property owners like Brown, it’s a matter of how the sewer line will affect them personally, and they don’t plan to back down without a fight.

“Are we going to be able to continue to enjoy our backyard and let our children play back there?” Brown asked.

James: 919-553-7234

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