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Some land acquired for wider avenue

November 24, 2005|By TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

MAUGANSVILLE - Washington County has purchased some homes outright to accommodate widening Maugans Avenue to five lanes - paying more than $243,000 for land and moving costs to one property owner, while others have been paid as little as a few thousand dollars for strips of land.

Some property owners have been approached by the county but haven't yet sold portions of their land.

The county, which has reached deals with 21 property owners, has 17 settlements left to reach, and it hasn't ruled out using eminent domain to acquire the land if deals can't be worked out.

Real Property Administrator Joe Kuhna said Wednesday the county would like to acquire the land without using eminent domain as soon as possible, so construction can begin as planned in the spring.

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"We really can't go to construction until we have all the properties secured," Kuhna said.

The county hopes to start construction on the approximately $6.1 million project in May 2006. County officials expect the project to be completed in August 2007.

The county budgeted nearly $3.1 million for land acquisition and has spent about $1.37 million so far.

If deals can't be reached with property owners, the county would condemn the land as a last resort and enter into eminent domain proceedings, Kuhna said. That could force delays in the project, he said.

Kuhna said it was hard to pinpoint why some property owners haven't yet reached land-acquisition agreements with the county, but it could be an emotional issue for some.

"It gets to be a little emotional when you've lived in a property for a number of years and you see changes coming to your neighborhood," Kuhna said.

After a county-sponsored meeting on the project last week, two Maugans Avenue residents who haven't settled deals with the county said they believed the county was offering property owners on the opposite side of the street more money for their land.

"I'm definitely opposed," resident Cindy Clements said. "If they got to do it, I want them to do it fairly."

Maugans Avenue resident Tom Mooningham also didn't close on a deal with the county as of last week's meeting. Clements and Mooningham live on the same side of the street.

Mooningham said after the meeting he was concerned about a stormwater management pond the county intends to put behind his house. He also shared Clements' concerns that residents on the opposite side of the street were being offered more money from the county.

Clements and Mooningham live on what the county considers the south side of the street. The county is planning a sidewalk on that side as part of the widening project.

Kuhna said it's possible for some residents on the other side of Maugans Avenue to be paid more money, because the widened road likely would be brought closer to homes on that side. Depending on how close, the property could be considered "damaged," resulting in more money for the property owners.

Differences in the amounts paid also are determined by the land itself, he said.

"Every property is different," Kuhna said.

The county has purchased four properties outright, including 13529 Spriggs Road for $191,000. In addition, the county paid that property owner "relocation/moving/settlement" costs of $52,828, bringing the total amount paid to $243,828, according to information provided by the county.

The widening project will add a lane in both directions and a center left-turn lane from Pennsylvania Avenue to Interstate 81.

County officials have said 12,000 to 16,000 vehicles travel the two-lane road daily. Between 1999 to 2004, there have been 85 accidents on that stretch of the road, according to the county.

County officials anticipate those statistics to increase with continued development around Maugans Avenue and say that a widened road would better accommodate traffic and make travel safer.

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