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CCRC moving forward with reservoir land acquisition, even with appeal

Published: Wednesday, June 18, 2014 9:36 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, June 18, 2014 9:38 a.m. CDT

Is the risk worth the reward?

That’s what Clarke County Reservoir Commission (CCRC) is hoping for with unanimously deciding to still move forward in the land acquisition process for the reservoir (lake) project at Squaw Creek Watershed, even though an appeal has been filed in its court case.

This decision was made during a June 12 CCRC meeting.

The court case

In an April 8 ruling, Judge Sherman W. Phipps of the Fifth Judicial District of Iowa ruled in favor of CCRC’s ongoing Squaw Creek Watershed project, confirming it is for a public use, public purpose or public improvement as defined in the Iowa Code.

Therefore, CCRC may use the power of declaratory judgment and eminent domain in the reservoir 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.

An appeal from local landowners was filed May 6 in Clarke County Courthouse on the judge’s ruling in the CCRC court case.

Legal advice

Attorney Ivan T. Webber, the CCRC’s legal counsel, addressed the situation to the CCRC during its meeting.

Webber said the only way to completely stop the land acquisition process was if a supersedeas bond was filed in the case.

However, none was, and Webber addressed how to proceed from there.

“The problem with that is, if you go forward in the acquisition, you do so at your own risk,” he said. “What that would mean in this case would mean any land that you acquired … under threat of eminent domain … even if it’s voluntarily acquired, if the supreme court reversed, you would have to undo.”

About the lake

As for the CCRC’s reservoir project, it 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.

Taking the risk

During the June 9 meeting, all of the CCRC members appeared to be adamant about moving forward in the land acquisition process, even with the risk of the current appeal.

July 23 is when CCRC will know exactly what the landowners are appealing in court because that’s when the legal brief will be available.

“Until then, we will not know what their issues are,” Webber said.

The legal process with an appeal could take from a year and a-half to two and a-half years, Webber said.

If the Iowa Supreme Court chooses not to hear the case, it would go to the court of appeals, which would still take an amount of time.

This is the third lake project Webber has worked on, including ones in Shenandoah and Union County.

“They have all been controversial, and the ones that got built are the ones that people stuck to,” Webber said.

With the CCRC voting to move forward, they will have to hire an appraiser and establish fair-market value for the land. Then, there will have to be a negotiation process.

“I don’t see any reason to delay it any further,” said CCRC member Harold Allen Jr. who represents the city of Woodburn. “We’re going to take some risks, but we’ve been taking risks. We’ve been threatened with everything here in the last 10, 12 years that I’ve been on this board. I’m ready, personally, to move on it, and I think my council would agree to that.”

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