The Hermiston City Council took the first formal step on Monday toward extending Gettman Road out to Highway 395.
The council passed a resolution clearing the way for getting appraisals for five pieces of property the city would need to acquire to extend the road.
Assistant City Manager Mark Morgan said the extension is needed for the city’s long-term economic well-being as well as the public’s safety. The proposed extension has been in the city’s Transportation Plan for more than 20 years.
Morgan said extending Gettman Road will establish a new more direct route allowing workers to access employment centers. Additionally, it helps to unlock future residential development land which is planned for future housing along this roadway’s route. Morgan said ensuring developable land for new housing units is crucial to meeting the labor supply needs of the local economy.
“There are several hundred acres that can be future residential development,” said Morgan. “From a community housing and workforce development standpoint, it’s necessary for us to make that connection.”
This resolution authorizes city staff to hire appraisers, negotiators, and other consultants to assist in property acquisition. It also requires staff and consultants to negotiate with property owners in good faith to compensate property owners.
And finally, the resolution authorizes city staff to take appropriate legal action, if necessary, in order to obtain the necessary property in exchange for compensation determined through legal proceedings.
In other words, if it comes to it, the city can acquire the land through eminent domain.
“Just to be clear, you’re asking us to give you power for eminent domain takeover tonight before you start making any type of negotiations? Is that right,” asked Councilor Doug Primmer.
“Correct,” said Morgan.
“I’m not a fan of that,” said Primmer, who was one of three councilors to vote against the resolution. “I see the necessity of this project, but my problem lies in pre-authorizing eminent domain, which is one of the most serious things we can do.”
Morgan said legal counsel advised the city take this step in order to up front and transparent with the property owners.
“If we begin to engage in negotiations with the property owner without declaring our intent to potentially utilize eminent domain, and then we come back later and declare we’re going to use eminent domain, it’s not exactly negotiating in good faith if we held that in our back pocket,” said Morgan.
The property owners affected by the proposed extension received certified letters on May 2 explaining the city’s plan and seeking feedback. Morgan said he has yet to hear from any owner.
Councilor Jackie Linton said she would like to see the resolution tabled until property owners have more time to respond.
Councilor Nancy Peterson agreed.
“I do see how this could be beneficial to community as a whole,” said Peterson. “But I know if I get something in mail, it sits on the table for a couple of days. We are doing them a disservice if we say we want to hear from you during this small window. I don’t think it reflects well on us as neighbors or as city councilors.”
Both Peterson and Linton joined Primmer in opposing the resolution.
The city has $300,000 budgeted to assist with right of way acquisition for the Gettman Road extension. It could cost more.
“Until real estate appraisers and negotiators can begin their work, a more precise estimate of fiscal impacts is challenging,” said Morgan.
The cost of the actual construction of the road extension is estimated at $2.7 million.
Morgan said the city is looking for funds from local, state and federal agencies to help pay for the actual road extension.
“But to get funding, we have to have the right of way first,” said Morgan.
Mayor Dave Drotzmann said this resolution merely gets the conversation started with property owners.
“There are always negotiations,” he said. “That’s all part of the process. If it gets to the end and we disagree, there’s an eminent domain process. And in Oregon, there is also an appeals process which gives a landowner the opportunity to engage in multiple different points and/or appeal the decision.”
Ultimately, said Drotzmann, this comes down to making difficult decisions for the good of the public at large.
“We have to look out for the future of community,” he said. “It’s what we’re elected to do. It’s never comfortable. But there are certain legal steps we have to go through to get this process going, even though its uncomfortable.”