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Eminent domain case concerns landowner

March 31, 2012
The Inter-Mountain

Earlier this month, Ruth Auvil and her brother-in-law, Ken Auvil, appeared before the Belington City Council and requested a settlement to resolve the sewer-and-water-easement conflict between Ruth Auvil and the city, which has climaxed with a condemnation suit.

"We are only asking for fairness," Ken Auvil said when he spoke during the March 15 City Council meeting.

The lawsuit was filed by the city against a portion of Ruth Auvil's land that contains a city sewer and water line, because the city needs to establish ownership of the line to move ahead with its sewer and water treatment plant project.

Article Photos

The Inter-Mountain photo by Joe Hoover
Ken Auvil, standing, presents Ruth Auvil’s case to the Belington City Council on March 15.

The line was installed in the 1970s to service the Barbour County Good Samaritan Center, which was built adjacent to the Auvil farm by Barbour County Reston Retirement, the line's installer, said Ken Auvil.

"BCRR came to the Auvil family and asked them to allow sewer and water lines to run through the Auvils' property, because they could then run the lines directly to the treatment plant across the river - which would save a significant amount of money," Ken Auvil said.

In exchange, BCRR offered Ruth and her late husband Ralph Auvil future rights to a 50-tap capacity in the line. The deal was struck and documented by notarized forms signed by the Auvil family and BCRR, Ken Auvil said.

In the following years, the Auvils repeatedly had issues related to the line.

It initially was designed to function with a gravity feed, however the conditions did not allow for this and a lift station had to be built on the their property.

Ruth Auvil listed some of the ongoing problems as raw sewage running on the farm, lift station leaks, health department orders and city employees coming and going.

In 1979, the city assumed responsibility for the maintenance of the line but didn't acquire ownership of the land that contains the line. Now, the city needs ownership of the property in order to move forward with the sewer and water treatment plant project.

Mayor Jody Haller said after the March 15 City Council meeting that the city must use its funds for the project by September 2012, or they will be reallocated. The funding regulations also require the city to own all of the property that contains city sewer and water lines. This situation led to the city's condemnation suite against Ruth Auvil's property.

Haller said they tried to come to an agreement, but time is a factor.

"If we do not move forward with the project, our 30 years of planning will come to nothing," he said.

In her statement, Ruth Auvil expressed understanding for the city's position, and she later said she has no desire to obstruct the project. She only wants to be treated fairly.

Ken Auvil said that during a meeting with Good Samaritan, the president of BCRR, the city and the mayor, Ruth Auvil offered to exchange ownership of the land for free sewer and water for the remainder of her life. When the city refused the offer, Ruth Auvil asked them to just honor the 50-tap capacity agreement that was inherited with the line.

The city refused that offer, too.

Finally, Ruth Auvil asked for a cash settlement. The city's appraiser suggested a settlement amount of $270.

"They are offering to pay Ruth $270 for the land and for the right to access it at any time, forever. That is not fair," Ken Auvil said.

She said in her statement that the city won't offer fair compensation to cover "city trucks coming and going, running over (the) property at will, nothing for running raw sewage, time and again, on their meadows, nothing for a leaking lift station."

Unwilling to accept the $270 settlement, Ruth Auvil and the city of Belington will take the issue to court, if the city does not propose a different offer.

In her statement, Ruth Auvil said she knows the city of Belington is enabled by the United States Constitution to force the issue. However, she requested that the city consider settling the conflict outside of court.

"We ask you to use your common sense to work this out, use your common sense to be fair," she said.

Haller said that the council would continue to discuss the matter.



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