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After negotiations with the family heirs failed, the county initiated condemnation proceedings and took possession of the property.At trial, the property owners asked the jury to value the property at a higher market value than agricultural land would command.
Across the country, family farms, ranches and agricultural businesses are threatened by eminent domain.Eminent domain is the power to take – or “condemn” – privately-owned property for a public purpose provided that “just compensation” is paid to the owner for the property taken.The power to condemn private property for public use is rather broad and is granted to government agencies at the federal, state, and local levels as well as to public utilities, railroads and select private companies providing public services.Eminent domain power can be used to acquire the land needed to complete the construction of public infrastructure projects such as highways, pipelines, transmission lines, schools and parks.Landowners whose property is acquired are entitled to just compensation for the property taken or damaged.In eminent domain, condemned property is to be valued according to its “highest and best use” – its most financially profitable use – which is not necessarily its current use nor the use for which it may be zoned.
Often agricultural land may have a higher value if considered for a different use, such as commercial.
Additionally, for farmers, ranchers and owners of agricultural land and businesses there are unique concerns regarding not only the land and improvements that might be acquired by eminent domain but also the damages to any remaining property and costs associated with curing or correcting any negative impacts the taking may have on the remaining property.
Improvements such as buildings, fencing, irrigation, and natural tree or vegetation barriers as well as access to and navigation around the property are aspects that may be negatively affected by an eminent domain taking and for which the owner may be entitled compensation.
The State Department of Transportation (DOT) and local county proposed the joint construction of a new highway extension that would connect a county route with the expressway.
The approved route required the taking of a 15-acre family farm located within the county’s portion of the project.
The farm property had been in the family since 1904 and originally served as the family home until the death of the family patriarch in the 1960s.