HUNTSVILLE — Scott County is prepared to go to court in an effort to obtain the easement necessary to complete a bridge replacement over Jellico Creek along Gum Fork Road east of Winfield.
By unanimous vote, County Commission on Tuesday gave approval for its legal counsel to prepare a condemnation lawsuit for the real estate needed for the bridge project, which is located near where Gum Fork Road meets Upper Jellico Creek Road and Capuchin Mountain Road.
The lawsuit was recommended by the county’s attorney, John Beaty, who said efforts to negotiate on behalf of the Scott County Road Department to obtain an easement for the project had thus far been fruitless.
At issue is a small parcel of property — described by Beaty as being a little less than a quarter of an acre. The property is owned jointly, with one 50% owner agreeing to grant an easement to the county at no cost and the other owner declining to accept an offer from the county.
Beaty said $2,500 had been offered, and refused.
Negotiation efforts are ongoing, Beaty said, but he added that time is of the essence to reach a resolution because the bridge construction project is grant-funded and has a deadline.
“We need to move quickly on this because the grant dollars are not there forever,” Beaty said.
Beaty added that while negotiations continue with the landowner who has not agreed to convey the easement, “So far we have not been able to make any process.”
Given the time crunch, Beaty said it was necessary to get an approval from County Commission to move forward with the necessary paperwork to initiate the lawsuit, should it be needed.
Fifth District Commissioners Harold Chambers and Paul Strunk, who represent the area where the bridge is being built, made and seconded a motion to proceed with the lawsuit if necessary. Strunk quizzed Beaty about whether the notoriously slow motion of the court process would delay the project beyond the grant deadline. Beaty acknowledged that as a possibility, but said he had spoken with the court clerks to let them know that the lawsuit was pending, and said judges were ready to hear the case “as soon as possible.”
“As long as I can convey the urgent need for this, I think they will accommodate us,” Beaty added.
While condemnations are a legal option for local governments who can prove that land is needed for projects that will benefit the community, they’re not often sought — at least not in Scott County. Beaty said this condemnation, if no agreement is reached and it proceeds, will be the first in his tenure as the county’s attorney.
The road department will be the official plaintiff if the lawsuit moves forward. Beaty would be required to submit what the county feels is a “reasonable amount” of money for the parcel of property, and the court would ultimately determine what the value of the property is. The burden will be on the property owner to dispute the county’s claim that the property is worth what it is offering.
Commissioners voted 14-0 to grant authority to the county to proceed with the condemnation lawsuit. Beaty estimated that the costs of appraising the property and court fees would be around $1,000, which will have to be paid by either the road department or county government.