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Eminent Domain

 
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About a month and a half ago I happened to be working in the front of my property and a city board of public works truck stopped at the dead end part of our access road. (we aren't in the city so I wondered...) Two very nice people came to me and asked do I have a creek and if they could go check out our creek. My son would not give permission and I agreed with him but I did question these two as to why they wanted to do that.

Turns out the city wants to put in a sewer system that may run through my property and they want to put a sewage pond "over there" and they pointed in a general direction.  They wanted to see if there was a creek and would it be an obstruction to their plans. I told them there was indeed a creek and the neighbor next to me also had a bigger creek which may or may not be connected to mine under ground. I have 15 acres with a spring fed creek about 5ish miles outside of city limits. Everyone around me has a septic tank and has had one for years. There is no need for a city run sewage system here and so I suspect they will want to then build factories with the promise that new jobs will be available. (we already know how that works)

I worry that they will do the imminent domain thing and there goes me! My thought is that I need to start planting "protected plants" all over my property and get my neighbors to do the same. Not only will that enrich my soil but it will bring back much needed insects, birds and eventually bigger wildlife.

That would be the quiet end of my battle against wrong doing but I wonder what other avenues can I pursue that will make my case stronger against the possibility of losing all that we have worked for here, especially since I am 73 and in no way ready to lay down and wait to die in alternative living because all we have worked on could be taken away from us in an instant.  (nor is my son who is 53.)

Anyone here have any input that we all can use to help us with this?
 
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Rosemary,

You have my sympathies, you really do.  I would be heartbroken if I got imminent domained.  I don’t know if there is any way to deflect their ambitions?

Again, my sympathies,

Eric
 
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What a horrible position to be in, Rosemary.

Some states offer "backyard sanctuary status" to those who apply and meet the qualifications. I don't know anything about the process or if it would help, but off the top of my head it's what comes to mind as something to look in to.
 
rosemary schmidt
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Based on your reply Leigh, I started a search and came up with some possibilities I hadn't thought of. Hopefully others will also have directions to persue that will help any of us who may end up with the same issue looming over their heads.

On a national level there is the "Recovering America's Wildlife Act  (HR3742) which protects the following.
In South Carolina, this bill will protect habitat for important wildlife species such as the American Kestrel, Painted Bunting, Black Bear, Coral Snake, and the American Eel.  
With this in mind, a black bear was sighted just a couple of weeks ago about a mile from me and photos were taken. (although it was looking through garbage so they may relocate it but there are probably many more) This does actually prove that our area has a protected species in it.
I have always been committed to keeping my woods in a natural state so it would be a no brainer that mine and others woods should be left alone based on the above. The problem is, greed is a mighty enemy...

Another point I'd like to make about using this as a pivot point in my argument against ID would be, 1. would the government take my property because of that?  2. or would I be forced to NOT improve the area according to proper stewardship of the land because the government says its wrong? I haven't researched it enough to know yet.
 
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rosemary schmidt wrote:My thought is that I need to start planting "protected plants" all over my property and get my neighbors to do the same. Not only will that enrich my soil but it will bring back much needed insects, birds and eventually bigger wildlife.



I think this is something we all need to be doing.  Even small patches of native plants are important to preserving the biosphere.

However, having protected species or habitats on your land may prevent you from changing it.  Folks find this out when they purchase a property with wetlands, which are protected in some states.


Land conservation easements and trusts may protect your land from some kinds of development, but may not protect it from eminent domain.  It might be worthwhile to talk to a land trust and see if they can give you a clear answer:  https://www.upstateforever.org/land-conservation
 
rosemary schmidt
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Yes Tyler I worry that if I did something like that and then registered my land as that, would I be painting myself in a corner.
Probably the best thing to do in my case is just to do it like a good steward and keep my mouth shut until I am forced to use it for protection against greed.
 
Eric Hanson
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Rosemary,

I strongly suspect that what the local municipality really wants is an easement on your property.  This would mean that they can have unhindered access to your property for pipeline maintenance.  This easement may allow them to come through and mow, etc. whenever they want.  If this runs through what is otherwise grassland, likely you would see no difference on a day to day basis.  The part that worries me is that they apparently want to go through your woods.  Do I understand that correctly?  If so, then perhaps they would be able to come through and clear cut a path, maybe 50’ wide (making that number up, might well be different) in which case you would effectively lose a wide strip of your woods.  The land would still be yours (and I bet that you would still have to pay the property tax) and you could grow or build anything you want on that area, just be mindful that whatever you potentially put there could be removed at any point.

I actually have a couple of easements on my property.  I had to get them in order to get water and power.  These basically parallel my driveway, but cross it as well.  If there is major water or power problems, the utility could come and dig up my yard or tear through my garden beds.  In 15 years this has never been an issue, but then my easement does not run through woods.

I don’t know if this helps or not, but maybe this sheds some light?

Eric
 
Leigh Tate
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Eric Hanson wrote:Rosemary, I strongly suspect that what the local municipality really wants is an easement on your property.


That would likely come with it, so it's helpful to know how the state, county, and town define legal easement. Here, it's 15 feet. But we had a banker kill an off-the-road property deal for us by demanding surrounding property owners grant a 60-foot easement. No one would sign, so we didn't get the property. Another time our utility company informed property owners that they were coming to remove trees and shrubs within 30 feet of the centerline of the road. Fortunately, enough property owners knew that this overreached the legal easement and stopped it.
 
rosemary schmidt
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Eric, good info there.
If they cut through my woods, they would also disrupt my creek, if they cut through where the natural springs were then they would, more than likely, be lost. My woods are hardwoods, I don't want to lose them especially since a swath like that would take out quite a lot of them! However if they were to follow the line of the dead end road and continue in the same direction, they would miss my property but would still hit my neighbors large creek. At this point I don't know what they plan, I just want to be prepared. I need to start checking with the city to see whats on the agenda but don't know how to go about that without raising flags unnecessarily.
I purposely bought this property for its beauty and location because I foresaw that I would need to be fairly close to medical in my latter years. I didn't foresee that my "city fathers" would want to do this with no regard for those of us around here who are happy with septic tanks and one lane roads. I'm all for progress but not if it is for greed without care for individuals.
Not only do we have our own septic tanks in this area but we all have wells also, I have two wells. I should check into that and see the detriments involved.
 
rosemary schmidt
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Yes Leigh, its 15 foot here also for the easement. They never do anything to my property except come by once a year and cut down saplings that might be getting too close to the asphalt. I'm good with that as its one less thing for me to do!
 
Leigh Tate
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Rosemary, hopefully, it won't come to that! Hopefully, they'll either change their minds or you'll come up with a satisfactory strategy for stopping them.

 
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Rosemary, if you can, a consultation with a lawyer who deals with city and county codes and the environment might be a real help.  You'll want a lawyer to talk to who doesn't do work for the city you have issues with, so maybe one in the next town if it's not too far away.  Sounds like you're in the County, and that county would use local lawyers.  

You can call around and sort of phone-interview a few lawyers for free, see if you feel comfortable with the person you are talking to, and ask them this specific phrase, "Do you or your firm do any work for the City or County here, and would that be a 'conflict of interest.' if we have a consultation."   If they don't specialize in what you need, ask them who would.  Then a consultation might be up around $100+, but it's worth it for information and peace of mind.

Aside from the City, and maybe the County invading your property, having some kind of easement, which I would fight with everything I've got if it were up to me, it affects the value of your land and your ability to sell it if you should ever need to, or even to get a loan.  It would also affect the value of your neighbors' land, so if you all could get together and get a consultation with a lawyer and maybe share the cost...contact everyone around you as soon as you can.

An effective phrase to use, if these people ever show up again and ask to go on your property is, "I'd love to cooperate, but my lawyer would kill me,"  And then just smile.  Don't say another word about your property or a lawyer.  Get their names and their emails, and tell them that if they need to contact you it should be in email (so it will be in writing and keep those carefully backed up,) not on the phone.  Then you'll always have a record of what they've told you.  If they leave messages on your phone, save them.

You might also be able to check online at a city or county website and see what projects they are up to.  Cities and counties have to be very transparent about what they have on their list, so it should be there somewhere, do a little sleuthing.  

Take this seriously and nip it in the bud before they go buying property all around you to do whatever it is they have in mind.
 
Cristo Balete
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Rosemary, do you have water rights on that creek?  Is that a source of drinking water for you and/or your neighbors?  That can make a big difference if that is a legal right to your property.
 
Eric Hanson
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Rosemary,

My heart would also be broken if a utility were to come through and cut my hardwoods.  My heart did break when a 2009 wind storm (100+ mph sustained winds) came through and toppled about 25 large hardwood trees from my 3-4 acre woods.  I just can’t tell you how much it hurt, but I would imagine that a utility coming through and cutting their swath would be just as painful.

My heart really does go out to you.  I would suggest taking as many of those proactive steps as possible.

My thoughts go out to you Rosemary,

Eric
 
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Cristo Balete wrote:Rosemary, if you can, a consultation with a lawyer who deals with city and county codes and the environment might be a real help.  You'll want a lawyer to talk to who doesn't do work for the city you have issues with, so maybe one in the next town if it's not too far away.  Sounds like you're in the County, and that county would use local lawyers.  

You can call around and sort of phone-interview a few lawyers for free, see if you feel comfortable with the person you are talking to, and ask them this specific phrase, "Do you or your firm do any work for the City or County here, and would that be a 'conflict of interest.' if we have a consultation."   If they don't specialize in what you need, ask them who would.  Then a consultation might be up around $100+, but it's worth it for information and peace of mind.



Having been through a similar situation only with power lines, I agree it would be in your best interest to contact a lawyer.  Usually, around here the lawyer doesn't charge for a consultation, especially if he/she wants your business. An attorney with experience with eminent domain would be best or at least a real estate lawyer.

Cristo and everyone else has offered great suggestions.
 
rosemary schmidt
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As recommended I started some research.
Turns out the city hires out water and sewage so it was difficult to find anything on their site besides cute social announcements. I may be looking in the wrong place but will continue searching.

The following is something that is business like but it doesn't address my particular problem, the setup (which I didn't include) to this letter only hints at something in the future.


We'd like to say a special thank you to Harvey Peeler for standing up for Gaffney BPW and all of our ratepayers and customers. He truly looks out for his constituents and his community. BPW General Manager Donnie Hardin wrote the letter below to the editors of our local newspapers, praising Senator Peeler's service and assistance with a recent piece of legislation signed by the Governor.

June 28, 2019

Dear Editor,
Recently the South Carolina Legislature passed and the Governor signed legislation that provides for an entity undertaking a new transportation system improvement project to bear the cost related to relocating water and sewer lines. This requirement is especially important to small towns and other public utilities with less than 10,000 customers because it allows for payment of 100% of the cost that has historically been the responsibility of our small community systems. This legislation is very significant to small community systems such as the Board of Public Works, Macedonia Water Works, and the Town of Blacksburg that many times have had to delay or cancel other needed projects, issue public debt, or raise rates to cover the cost of these water and sewer line relocations. Now the cost will be paid by the entity, primarily SCDOT, through existing gas taxes paid by everyone who uses our Interstates and roads, including out of state drivers. I would like to thank our local Legislative Delegation for supporting this legislation.
Unfortunately, SCDOT officials did not feel this original legislation covered the relocation cost of the current Interstate 85 widening project in Cherokee County because it was already under construction. After carefully reading the legislation and understanding it may not include the I-85 project, I contacted Senator Harvey Peeler. Senator Peeler was very concerned about this understanding and agreed to look into this matter. Within 24 hours, I was contacted by Senator Peeler’s office and informed he had arranged a meeting the next day with the director of the SCDOT. Shortly after their meeting, I was informed the SCDOT had reconsidered and the total cost of relocating water and sewer lines in Cherokee County on the Interstate 85 project would be covered by the SCDOT. As a result of Senator Peeler’s diligent service to his constituents, the ratepayers and taxpayers of the Town of Blacksburg, Grassy Pond Water Co., the Board of Public Works, and Macedonia Water Works will save over seven million dollars ($7,000,000) in cost for water and sewer line relocation on the I-85 widening project. These monies can now be used on other needed projects, eliminate the need for additional public debt, and provide great assistance to our Councils and Boards in keeping rates affordable. Since the Board of Public Works provides water to every public water system in Cherokee County, either directly or indirectly, his work will save every public water ratepayer in Cherokee County.
On behalf of the Board of Public Works Commissioners, the Macedonia Water Works Board, and as a ratepayer, I would like to thank Senator Harvey Peeler for his help in this matter and his exceptional service to his constituents.


It does give me the idea that I may be able to contact Mr Peeler about my issue if need be and in a last ditch effort maybe. But I suspect I will need to gather my neighbors together in order to make an indelible mark on his mind as one person is only one vote...
 
rosemary schmidt
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Christo, I thought once I owned the land with the creek I owned the water that flows from the springs and along the creek? Is there something more I need to do to make sure its mine?
 
rosemary schmidt
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Christo, if the springs are, indeed, connected to my well water then yes I get all my water from there but I have no idea if they are connected.
 
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Here in Maine anyway, no one owns the water on any stream that is sizable (has defined banks). Here we automatically have a bunch of rights including water, but that does not include the streams. On the streams I own land on both sides of, if a person wants to wade in the stream to fish, I cannot legally get them out of the stream because it is not technically my land. My rights stop at the high water mark, even if my property line is the center of the stream.

The Supreme Court also ruled that the Army Corp of Engineers is also another entity that controls the water ways. Up to that ruling, they were only allowed on navigable waterways, but now that authority has been extended to any water body up to the 5000 foot elevation limit. In Maine, that includes everything because our highest point is only 5,280 feet high.

But water rights in the Eastern States is far different than in the western states, so it depends on what state a person lives in.

If there is streams in your area though, I doubt they will end up putting in a wastewater treatment pond near you. It takes a lot of red tape to even cross a stream now, so other areas will look far more favorable then yours. And that is what they said they were doing, just doing a preliminary search to see what was out there.
 
rosemary schmidt
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Travis,

Yes I am hoping that my and my neighbors stream will put a halt to anything they plan but also wonder how far away from a stream/creek are they allowed to put in that sort of system.
I envision myself being surrounded by huge factories or neighborhoods where the houses are 20 feet apart from each other because they were able to install the sewer system far enough away and then the buildings put closer to my land. One of my neighbors has hundreds of acres and if he wants to sell that could very well happen I suppose.

My dream of being away from the city, out in the country may be slowly nibbled away as they continue to build and build. I'm too old to sell and change after putting so much into this property with the thought of having my own wonderful wide open space to finish out my life on and then pass it on to my son who has put a lot of his own blood sweat and tears into it as well.

Maybe I am panicking all for nothing, who knows...

With this thread, I have gotten some good ideas and will keep my ear to the ground on this issue so that I can, hopefully, stem the tide if it starts to go south.
 
Travis Johnson
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rosemary schmidt wrote:
Travis,

Yes I am hoping that my and my neighbors stream will put a halt to anything they plan but also wonder how far away from a stream/creek are they allowed to put in that sort of system.
I envision myself being surrounded by huge factories or neighborhoods where the houses are 20 feet apart from each other because they were able to install the sewer system far enough away and then the buildings put closer to my land. One of my neighbors has hundreds of acres and if he wants to sell that could very well happen I suppose.

My dream of being away from the city, out in the country may be slowly nibbled away as they continue to build and build. I'm too old to sell and change after putting so much into this property with the thought of having my own wonderful wide open space to finish out my life on and then pass it on to my son who has put a lot of his own blood sweat and tears into it as well.

Maybe I am panicking all for nothing, who knows...

With this thread, I have gotten some good ideas and will keep my ear to the ground on this issue so that I can, hopefully, stem the tide if it starts to go south.



I struggle with that too.

Because I live close to the ocean, I know our shellfish industry is often stopped because of Red Tide. That bloom is 100% attributed to the human manure coming off the rivers into the ocean here. The regulatory bodies know it, and it stems from wastewater treatment plants that do not have enough capacity when there is a heavy rain, or melting snow event.

I am sensitive to that, but like you, what do I do?

20 years ago they wanted to spread human manure on our fields called sludge. I realize that waste water treatment plants are 99% of the solution, but just what does society do with the 1% of sludge that they cannot process? More so, why does it have to come to my farm? I am 100 miles away from South Portland, Maine!

I fought it, and I am glad I did, now land that has been treated with sludge cannot have a home on it for 100 years after the last application.

I wish I had the answers. I know overall it is good, but not in my backyard is important because it IS MY BACKYARD!'

What I have found in life is, the more a person worries about something, the less it comes true. So I hope that is your case. Carry a big stick in any case, and beat them back if you have too!

 
rosemary schmidt
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Wow Treavor! 100 years seems a bit overboard when you consider that even human excrement can nourish the soil. Unless of course chemicals are the issue. The powers that be should be ashamed of themselves...
 
rosemary schmidt
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oops meant Travis (blushes)
 
Travis Johnson
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Yes, but with urban human manure there are a lot of nasties with it. I do not need tons of used condoms on my farm, not to mention all the legal and illegal drugs that people pee and poo out.
 
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