IDOT, pipeline project create crowded eminent domain atmosphere locally

By Gary Scott on March 23, 2016 at 3:00pm

Two different sets of eminent domain cases are working their way through the Morgan County court system.

Nearly two years after state officials indicated they’d re-work some vehicle entrances on Morton Avenue as part of a bigger re-improvement project, the issue is now being forced in court.

Five condemnation cases have been filed against businesses on the main east-west road in Jacksonville by the Illinois Attorney General’s Office on behalf of the Illinois Department of Transportation.

The businesses include ALDI, Prairie State Bank, Huck’s Convenience Store, and unspecified properties connected to B&H Real Estate and Wells Fargo. Morgan County Treasurer Jenny Geirnaeirt is also named in the court filings. The claims are being filed for certain parcels on each property.

Back in May of 2014, IDOT officials explained to us, that as part of a multi-year improvement project for Morton, the department wanted to get rid of some business entrances because they were high-accident locations.

The Attorney General’s Office claims that IDOT has made “good faith efforts” and “reasonable attempts” to negotiate before resorting to the eminent domain option.

An IDOT spokesman said the department is declining comment on legal proceedings.

Jacksonville Mayor Andy Ezard was asked about the topic on “What’s On Your Mind?” on WLDS on Wednesday.

“From all indications from our engineers before a couple days ago, I thought this letting would be pushed back into June and July, and work wouldn’t be started until the fall. However, I’ve just gotten word yesterday afternoon that it’s going to be included in the April 22nd letting. So, that moves the project up to where it starts early, so I think maybe IDOT may have reached consensus with some owners or something to reach that letting for April 22nd,” says Ezard.

“Yeah, IDOT, I mean, they do their own thing as far as, they let us know. There were some businesses that I helped out with. What they are is curb cuts and entrances into businesses, and they’re going to fill some of those in. They just felt, you don’t need three or four entrances into the building, so they’re going to to make the improvement and fill some of those in, and I think that’s maybe where some right-of-way and that was kind of a component of the delay. But, it’s not delay now, so I think, full steam ahead,” he continues.

Also, a half-dozen eminent domain cases have been filed in Morgan and Scott County court in the months of February and March in connection to a pipeline scheduled to come through the area.

The 1,100-mile-long Dakota Access Pipeline will run through Morgan and Scott Counties before terminating at a junction in Patoka, Illinois. Pipeline officials say it will carry as much as 600,000 barrels of oil every day from the oil fields of western North Dakota.

Three of the eminent domain cases have been dismissed.

In Morgan County, there are still pending cases against a trust-owned parcel of land next to Route 267, and two parcels in Meredosia. There, lawyers for the pipeline project name the property owners of the old Norfolk and Western railroad, and the Trammo Company storage terminal.

State regulators in Illinois, Iowa, South and North Dakota have approved the pipeline. It must still be approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers because the pipeline goes under the Missouri River twice in North Dakota.

We reached out to a spokeswoman for the project, and did not get an immediate call back this week.

It should also be noted that since we last reported on eminent domain cases filed by attorneys for Ameren Illinois as part of the utility’s effort to construct a transmission line across the central portion of the state, the number of cases has almost doubled.

In Morgan and Scott Counties, there have been 24 cases filed in connection to the Illinois Rivers Transmission Line. In Scott, there are still three active cases, while in Morgan County, there are twelve, with the remaining nine dismissed.

Construction for the one-point-four-billion-dollar, 345,000-volt power line project got underway in late September.