Ever wonder about the declaratory-judgment process for Clarke County Reservoir Commission’s (CCRC) Squaw Creek Watershed project?
Dave Beck, project coordinator for CCRC’s watershed project, provided a guide sheet on the subject during CCRC’s meeting June 13.
Declaratory judgment is a court review for acquiring land for a public project. It authorizes CCRC to purchase land from voluntary sellers and allows exercising eminent domain for involuntary sellers within the area of the watershed project.
Beck named the guide “Dave’s Guide to Declaratory Judgment: A Best Guess Publication.”
“I was going to call this a ‘Dummies Guide to Declaratory Judgment,’ but thought I might get in trouble with copyright infringement,” Beck joked.
The declaratory-judgment process is in relation to the ongoing CCRC watershed project that could provide a water supply for Osceola and Southern Iowa Rural Water Association (SIRWA) with an 816-acre lake in Clarke County. The reservoir project could provide 2.2 million gallons of water per day.
The total project cost for the reservoir is estimated at $37.6 million. Funding for the project includes many sources, especially funding from local option sales taxes.
Beck said in the declaratory-judgment process, all dates and action are subject to change.
On March 5, CCRC filed a declaratory-judgment petition in Clarke County District Court seeking determination and declaration under the Iowa Code for acquiring land for the project.
All landowners involved were served notice of the CCRC petition, with the final served June 12.
“They’ll have 20 days to respond, just like everybody else has had,” Beck said.
The final landowners response is estimated to be due in Clarke County Court July 3.
By July 17, a court administrator will hold a conference, most likely through a phone call, with CCRC’s attorney, landowner attorneys and landowners who responded to the petition without an attorney. The purpose of the conference is to schedule a court date in the declaratory-judgment process of acquiring land for the reservoir project.
Beck said the CCRC’s attorney has told him it usually takes three months from the conference call for the court date to occur.
Estimated court date
This would put the estimated court date for declaratory judgment at Oct. 21.
The timing for the estimated court date depends on court workload, availability of judges and the priority of criminal cases over civil cases.
An estimated court session time length is three days. A judge’s decision on the matter is due within 60 days.
That means a decision could be made by Dec. 24 about acquiring land for the project.
“That’s my best estimate this month, and it’s subject to change,” Beck said.
Still to come
If the judge agrees with CCRC’s petition for declaratory judgment, a lot of work still has to be done.
The CCRC will have to obtain and review land appraisals, make offers to individual landowners, make sure purchase agreements are accepted by landowners and approved by the board and have “closing” completed on individual land tracts.
Beck said he would like to be further into the project’s process, but the legal system goes by its own schedule.
An audience member asked a question about what happens if somebody “surfaces” that the CCRC hasn’t notified in the declaratory-judgment process.
Board member Sandy Kale said the CCRC had to go by a certified list from the auditor’s office.
“That’s part of the process,” Beck said. “It’s demonstrating to the court that we’ve followed all the various processes.”
“As far as we know, everybody whose on that list has been contacted,” Kale said.
Another comment from the audience was not everybody on the list has been contacted.
Kale said the board would like any information that’s available, or they will talk to their attorney about the issue.