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Court rules for farm in suit over Exit 7 in Pa.

September 01, 1999

From staff and wire reports

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court ruled Monday that the state Department of Transportation cannot take part of a Franklin County farm for an interchange project without approval from a state review board.

The court did rule, however, that department workers can go onto the Greene Township farm of Lamar and Lois White for tests and other work to prepare for the proposed $10 million Exit 7 project.

The Whites, of 1383 Walker Road, took the department to court in May, claiming it had violated state law by not first having sought the consent of the Pennsylvania Agricultural Lands Condemnation Approval Board.

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"They were planning on beginning construction by the end of this summer, but the decision blows that out of the water," said Thomas Linzey, the attorney for the Whites. "They'll be delayed another year even if they get ALCAB approval," he said.

The legal wrangling between the Department of Transportation and opponents of the exit has been going on since $5 million in federal funding was approved for the interchange 14 years ago, Linzey said. Since then the cost of the demonstration project has doubled and the plan has been modified several times.

The Department of Transportation's latest plan called for tearing down the Walker Road overpass, where the exit was originally to be placed, and moving it 1,300 feet south, Linzey said.

Linzey said the ruling has far-reaching impact. He said the department argued in court the project was exempt from review by the board because it involved work on an existing highway.

The Whites argued the exemption applied only to minor changes, such as widening a road, Linzey said. The ruling means any project involving farmland will now have to be reviewed by the Agricultural Lands Condemnation Approval Board.

Linzey said the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau had filed a "friend of the court" brief supporting the White's position. He said the Franklin Farm Bureau and Chambersburg Area School District were both on record opposing tearing down the Walker Road bridge.

Department of Transportation spokesman Greg Penny said Tuesday the agency is reviewing the decision and deciding whether to appeal.

The interchange would interfere with access to 26 acres of their farm, render it unfarmable and cause them to lose $7,670 in revenue annually, the Whites argued in the lawsuit.

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