City may file case to speed up property purchase

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The city of Hermiston was given the OK by the city council to acquire 19.5 acres of land needed for to provide access to the proposed Eastern Oregon Trade and Event Center.

The city, however, has an obstacle to overcome before it can acquire the land. While the purchase price of $215,000 has been agreed upon by the various owners of the property, there are unresolved issues among the owners hanging up the land sale.

Those issues were addressed by the Hermiston City Council during an executive session held Jan. 28. Following the executive session, the council voted 5-2 to authorize the city to take eminent domain action if the owners cannot resolve their differences in a timely fashion.

Doug Primmer and John Kirwan voted against the resolution.

Kirwan said there is other property the city could buy without having to go the eminent domain route and feels the city hasn’t exhausted all the alternatives.
“It should be used as a last resort,” he said.

Primmer, too, said he believes eminent domain should only be used when it is the only option left.

“It (eminent domain) is not a power I take lightly,” Primmer said. “In nearly every deliberation of facts that come before me in council, I will review them and consider them with a neutral beginning. But with eminent domain, I think I am going to have to start with ‘no’ and be convinced it has to be ‘yes.’ I firmly believe that is what the majority of those that I represent would want.”

If need be, Hermiston City Manager Ed Brookshier said the city would likely file eminent domain action in Umatilla County Circuit Court by mid-February.

The property would provide access from Airport Road to the future site of the EOTEC. According to Brookshier, there is no viable alternative property to provide access to the center. And, said Brookshier, there is no way of knowing when the property owners will resolve their differences allowing for the sale to go through. If the wait drags on, he said, it would delay the development of the EOTEC.

Eminent domain allows government entities to seize private land, typically for large public projects. The private owners are then compensated for their land.

Brookshier emphasized the conflict does not center on the purchase price, which is based on a fair market value appraisal and agreed to by the owners. Nor would the land acquisition by the city force any residents to move from their homes.