Tuesday, May 08, 2001

Land owner resists sewer project

District initiates eminent domain

By Ray Schaefer
Enquirer Contributor

        BELLEVIEW — Don Stites compares the struggle over part of his family's Boone County farm to the Chinese government's massacre of students in Beijing nearly 12 years ago.

        For nearly two years, Mr. Stites, 70, and Sanitation District No. 1 of Campbell and Kenton Counties have argued over a plan to build a wastewater treatment facility on a nearly 150-acre section of Mr. Stites' 500-acre farm on Ky. 20 in western Boone County. The district claims the land is the only possible site, but Mr. Stites doesn't want to sell the land.

        Last week, the sanitation district filed in Boone Circuit Court what is called a verified petition for condemnation. It's the first step toward acquiring the land under eminent domain procedures.

        “The sewer bullies roll on like the tanks in Tiananmen Square,” Mr. Stites said Monday. “The plant will destroy beautiful riverfront property, which a comprehensive study shows could be worth $100 million if it were fully developed.”

        Mr. Stites' land is on Ky. 20 about 26 miles southwest of downtown Cincinnati and 9 miles southwest of Inter state 275. The sanitation district wants a 150-acre plot on the southern end of the Stites property for the wastewater treatment plant.

        Sanitation District general manager Jeff Eger said an April 30 letter from James Bickford, commissioner of the state Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Cabinet, to Hank Graddy, a Midway, Ky. attorney representing the Alliance for Kentucky's Future, a group of Northern Kentucky residents opposing the plant, is proof the state supports the selection of the Stites property.

        “Decisions as to local land use are best made locally,” the letter stated. “So long as the plan submitted by the planning agency is cost-effective and furthers the goal of providing for the prevention, abatement and control of water pollution, the cabinet will not dictate one location over another.

        “... We have concluded that the site selection and evaluation process of the district was comprehensive and included justification for the site chosen as well as the sites rejected.”

Development would follow
               Mr. Graddy appreciates Mr. Bickford's addressing water quality in the letter, but added that the infrastructure needed for the plant would lead to unrestrained development.

        “It becomes almost impossible to stop development around that plant,” Mr. Graddy said.

        Boone Circuit Judge Jay Bamberger had not received the district's filing as of Monday.

        When he does, he will under state law appoint a special commission of three “house keepers.” These are Boone County property owners who will visit and determine the value of the land.

        The commission then has 30 days to come up with an estimated value. Judge Bamberger then determines whether the district can take the land, and a jury determines the price to be paid.

        “Some commissions don't work very hard on it,” said Robert Manley, the Cincinnati attorney representing Mr. Stites. “I hope that's not the case here.”

        Mr. Stites, a retired Procter & Gamble employee, is nonetheless hopeful.

        He said the plant is not a done deal because representatives from the Division of Water, which is part of the Department for Environmental Protection, have told Mr. Manley the plant has not yet been approved. The Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Cabinet has told Mr. Manley it has not approved the project.

All queries answered
               But Mr. Eger said he expects to hear from the state soon. He said his agency has answered all the questions the state asked when plans were filed last November.

        “There were no deal-breakers, and we don't expect to have any problems,” Mr. Eger said.

        In March, Mr. Stites, 70, a retired Procter & Gamble employee, and Mr. Manley, presented the sanitation district with a 153-page feasibility study. It in cluded illustrations with full-color renderings and schematics and stated that the land could bring up to $101 million if a high-end subdivision and equestrian center are built.

        Mr. Stites said the plant would take about 95 acres on which corn, soybeans and tobacco are now raised.

        The judge-executives in Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties approved the plan in July. Mr. Eger also said the land is ideal because the district can receive supplies via barge.

        Mr. Stites lives in Wyoming, Ohio, but he has said his family has planted 2,000 trees, cleared a mile of fence rows and added bluebird houses to the Boone County land.

        And he vows to fight the district.

        “Public opinion didn't stop Sanitation District 1, so now we'll rely on the courts for justice,” Mr. Stites said. “The fight goes on. We'll see how well our anti-tank weapons perform.”


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