New eminent domain bill brings a wash of concerns during legislative luncheon
People in Clarke County have worked many years on the process of constructing a new reservoir project, and quite a few are wary of any potential setback.
This was the general sentiment at a legislative luncheon with Rep. Joel Fry, R-Osceola, and Sen. Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, Friday, Feb. 28, at Lakeside Casino. The luncheon was sponsored by Clarke County Development Corporation (CCDC).
On the tables during the luncheon, there was a copy of House File 2411, a bill for “an act relating to state and local government powers and limitations, including authorizing loans from city reserve funds and modifying eminent domain authority and procedures and including effective date and retroactive and other applicability provisions.”
“What this piece of legislation does, to my understanding,” said Fry, “and again, I was informed about this about 20 minutes before it took place on Wednesday of last week, it adds the eminent domain language of last year’s bill … it adds that same language back into an existing bill that dealt with loans from cities.”
How does this all relate to Clarke County?
Clarke County Reservoir Commission’s (CCRC) ongoing Squaw Creek Watershed project could provide a water supply for Osceola and Southern Iowa Rural Water Association (SIRWA) with an 816-acre lake, which could provide 2.2 million gallons of water per day.
West Lake, the current water source, doesn’t meet the needs of Clarke County and SIRWA.
The total project cost for the reservoir in the CCRC Squaw Creek Watershed is estimated at $37.6 million. Funding for the project includes many sources, especially funding from the local-option sales tax.
Right now, CCRC is going through the process of declaratory judgment with the watershed project.
Declaratory judgment is a court review for acquiring land for a public project. It authorizes CCRC to purchase land from voluntary sellers and exercise eminent domain for involuntary sellers within the area of the watershed project. Eminent domain is the government’s power to take private property for public use by a state.
A court date in Clarke County was set for March 10 to determine if CCRC can authorize declaratory judgment in its watershed project.
According to Fry, the bill concerning eminent domain came out of the committee of local government last week.
Many people had concerns about changing rules and regulations with a process CCRC has already started.
“If this bill comes in and it impacts our reservoir project, how will you, both of you, react?” said Helen Kimes with Saylor Realty, president of CCDC.
Sinclair said she didn’t know about the bill until that morning and would get back to Kimes personally, once she read the bill in its entirety.
“It does impact our community. We’ve worked really hard a lot of years,” Kimes said. “I understand it’s not everybody’s favorite bill, or project, but it’s going to be very important for Clarke County, and surrounding areas, to gain water, because we have to have water. And, we’ve searched options. We’ve worked on this project for over 15 years, and a lot of people have put a lot of time and effort into it, and we just keep getting pounded with laws of some kind or another.”
According to Sinclair, two other pieces of legislation in the Senate with pending litigation were set aside until the next year. She discussed this as an example of what could happen as the legislative session continues.
“We can’t grow,” Kimes said. “We can’t attract additional industry, expand housing or anything else if we don’t have adequate water, and we are at max now.”
Fry said, if the bill is similar to the same legislation that went to the Senate last year, he will be consistent with his voting by abstaining because of a conflict of interest.
“Given the fact that I’m in the middle of the project, I believe that’s the only way to do it, in my situation, for the community,” Fry said.