Friday, November 16, 2001

Land taking fought

Site selectors to be grilled

By Karen Samples
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        BURLINGTON — Officials with the Northern Kentucky sewer district must answer questions under oath about their decision to take private property in western Boone County, a judge said on Thursday.

        The ruling was good news for Don and Marion Stites, the Hamilton County couple who own the riverfront land and are fighting its condemnation by Sanitation District No. 1, which wants to build a water treatment plant.

        After a hearing Thursday, Boone Circuit Judge Joseph “Jay” Bamberger agreed to let the Stites' attorneys take depositions from the district's seven board members as well as Executive Director Jeff Eger.

        The couple alleges that the district's selection of their land was arbitrary and may have been the result of gross abuse or fraud. To determine whether that is the case, they need to examine district records and question its officials, attorneys Robert Manley and Todd McMurtry said.

        They cited this example of what they consider a suspicious event: When district officials recommended the Stites site to Northern Kentucky judge-executives, they did not include a multimillion-dollar pumping station in their cost estimate, although the station is necessary because of the topography. At the public meeting, Mr. Eger did not answer a question regarding this omission, Mr. McMurtry said.

        Attorneys for the Sanitation District denied any impropriety. The pumping-station question was, after all, raised at the meeting, so the judge-executives were aware of it before they voted, attorney Bill Robinson said.

        “Any argument, any tactic, is to delay, delay, delay, and to play to this,” said another lawyer, Gerald Dusing, gesturing at the reporters in the room.

        Under eminent domain, governments do not have to justify their selection of a particular site; they can take property for a fair price as long as there is evidence of a public need, Mr. Dusing said. In this case, a moratorium on construction may be necessary if a sewer plant is not built, he said.

        Nevertheless, Judge Bamberger agreed to let the other side explore the district's selection process. But he set a strict timetable — all depositions must be taken by Jan. 23.


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