County passes eminent domain clause, but not happily

By Chris Collins January 15, 2014 08:56 am

By Chris Collins

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The Baker County Board of Commissioners reluctantly approved a resolution at its meeting last week that would allow it to “exercise the right of eminent domain” regarding right-of-way acquisition on the Best Frontage Road project.

Commission Chairman Fred Warner Jr. and Commissioners Tim Kerns and Mark Bennett all voiced their distaste for a declaration of eminent domain, which would allow the county to condemn property needed to complete the Best Frontage Road project if any of several landowners refused to cooperate. Landowners would receive “just compensation” for land acquired for the project.

The commissioners said they would not have agreed to the resolution without this statement that gives the county options: “Baker County expressly reserves its jurisdiction to determine the necessity or propriety of any acquisition, its quantity, quality, or locality, and to change or abandon any acquisition."

Warner said the resolution ensures the road improvement project could proceed should a landowner be unable to reach an agreement with the county and state.

“I hate to even have to do this,” Warner said of approving the resolution. “But they need it done if they come up against a landowner who wanted 100 times the value of the property and it would kill the project.”

And in such cases, the decision about “just compensation” would be made by a judge.

Kerns agreed that he would hate to jeopardize the project, and the funding allocated toward it.

“It will be a benefit to every landowner on that road, and make their property more valuable,” he said. 

Kerns and Bennett voiced their displeasure with the title “Resolution Exercising the Power of Eminent Domain.”

“We’re not exercising it,” Kerns said. “(This resolution is) forced down on us. We’ll take it the way it is.”

In other business at the Jan. 8 session, the commissioners:

• Agreed to pay $6,510 for a surplus Forest Service 2004 Chevrolet four-wheel drive half-ton extended cab pickup truck. The pickup will be used by Baker County Emergency Management. Currently the department has no response vehicle, Jason Yencopal, Emergency Management director, told the commission.

Emergency Management Performance Grant funds of $3,100 will help pay the cost with the remaining $3,410 coming from the department’s budget, Yencopal said.

• Approved the purchase of a 2014 Ford Fusion sedan for $17,813 from Gentry Ford of Baker City.

Bids ranging from a low of $15,817 for a 2014 Ford Focus from Gentry Ford to a high of $20,110 for a Jeep Patriot from Gentry Dodge were considered. Baker Garage also bid on the contract, with a low offer of $15,875 for a 2014 Chevrolet Sonic to a high of $19,250 for two pre-owned Chevrolet Impalas, one that had been driven 10,125 miles and another with 9,530 miles.

• Renewed funding of $12,500 to the Baker Youth Community Action Project. Beckie Guthrie, workforce development specialist for the Training and Employment Consortium, reported that 31 of 32 rural, low-income and at-risk youth ages 14 to 18 completed the work readiness program. One moved before completion.

Twenty-five participated in a paid work experience and four got jobs upon completion of the work readiness training.

Of that group, 97 percent showed improvement in work skills.

Fourteen of the young people graduated from high school in June; one girl who was a new mom last year is on track to graduate this spring.

Of those who graduated, one has started his own business, three entered the military, six went on to college or a trade school, one is on a mission for his church and plans to attend college upon return and two are working full time.

• Approved an intergovernmental agreement with the City of Haines allowing the Baker County Justice Court to handle violations of Haines city ordinances.

• Set the sale date for land acquired by the county through foreclosure of delinquent tax liens for 10 a.m. March 11 on the steps of the Courthouse at 1995 Third St. The commissioners set the minimum bid for property at 2145 15th St. in Baker City at $14,000 and set the minimum bid for property in Haines at $5,000.

• Agreed to join neighboring counties in applying for representation through  the Western Resources Legal Center to navigate the complexities of the management plan for sage grouse on Bureau of Land Management land. Bennett said the county would not be obligated to pay legal fees unless it gets into litigation.