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Eight property owners have agreed to sell part of their lots for a sewer line, but one can't be reached.
Wednesday, May 22, 2013
The Western Virginia Water Authority may have to invoke its power of eminent domain to compel a landowner to sell it an easement for only the second time since its founding nearly a decade ago.
The authority on Wednesday mailed the last piece of paper required before going to court for permission to compel a sale, its general counsel Sam Darby said.
That paperwork was a bona fide offer to buy an easement across a back yard on the 3000 block of Lombardy Avenue in northwest Roanoke.
The authority needs to dig a new sewer line to serve homes on that block, as well as Hermitage in Roanoke retirement community, because of chronic problems with sewage backups on the current line. The current line runs through back yards of homes on Lorraine Avenue, just a few yards away from where the new line would go.
Owners of eight Lombardy Avenue properties have agreed to sell 20-foot-wide easements across their back yards to the authority.
The old line isn’t deep enough and doesn’t have a steep enough slope to function properly. It is also in poor condition. Because of the location of gas lines, fences, trees and outbuildings, the route through the Lombardy Avenue yards is more practical, authority engineers believe.
“The project manager has been working for months to try and get all the necessary easements,” authority spokeswoman Sarah Baumgardner said.
“We have distributed door hangers and letters with information about the project and requesting the easement. We have also gone door to door to talk to the property owners. In some cases, we have had to track down property owners across the country.”
Its problem, and the reason eminent domain may be necessary, is that one property owner hasn’t responded to its efforts to get in touch.
The authority has a pretty cut-and-dried method for determining what it pays for easements, Darby said. Basically, its engineers calculate how much space they’ll need for a 20-foot-wide path for an underground line.
Authority staff then look at the assessed value of the property, calculate a per-square-foot price, and multiply that by 0.4 for land that can’t be built on and 0.9 percent for open land that could possibly be built on, Darby said.
It also will pay for temporary easements, as it did for the one other time it has had to invoke eminent domain, to clear a blockage in a sewer line on Fleetwood Avenue Southwest. Darby said the authority is about to ask a court to formally rule on whether the $2,500 it paid was fair.
A state law enacted in 2007 limits the use of eminent domain for public purposes, to make sure government agencies here did not take advantage of a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing the compulsory purchase of land for economic development projects. In November, Virginia voters overwhelming agreed that the protections of the 2007 law should be added to the state constitution.
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