Members of the Central Bridge sewer district board are expected to vote next month on whether to proceed with taking 1.1 acres of land from two local farmers through eminent domain after a public hearing Thursday that was attended by more than 25 people.
Speakers at the two-hour hearing in the Methodist Church Hall were split on the issue and few board members gave their opinions after the public spoke.
The hearing will be held open through the district’s August meeting.
Town officials said that costs could rise greatly if a pumping station would have to be moved from the property; the land owner said town officials and others knew they were building on his land; and Central Bridge Civic Association members explained their side of the story at the hearing. Access to their field has been denied and their pavilion and snack bar was found to be on land owned by the Seebold family.
Attorney Mike West said before the hearing that district officials believed that the Civic Association owned the property that the pumping station was built on and county tax maps showed that the association owned it. It was only after the station and piping was put in and a survey that it was found that the land was owned by the Seebold family.
Negotiations were held with the Seebold family but no deal could be struck.
The district, Mr. West said, could take the entire parcel, part of the parcel or take an easement through eminent domain if there is a public need, benefit and use. Other factors include location and the effect on the environment, residents and locality.
If the parcel was taken through eminent domain, the owners would be paid fair market value, he said.
Engineer Jack McDonald said the station was built at the lowest point in the district and if the station had to be moved or a second station was needed, it would add about $300,000 to the project.
Property owner Bill Seebold said he told many town officials and others that they were building on his family’s property, before, during and after the station was put in.
The station was “illegally and blatantly built” on his property and unless the problem is rectified, he will demand a rental fee of $250 a day, which is set by the town zoning.
He said he told officials that they were trespassing on his property but the warnings were “ignored and snubbed” and their attitude was “prove it.”
Over the years, sewers in Central Bridge have contaminated his fields and compromised his water sources but he was willing to come to an amicable agreement and met with Esperance Supervisor Earl VanWormer and others in May.
Mr. VanWormer told him, Mr. Seebold said, that the engineer had given the information on the property to the Town of Schoharie. Mr. Seebold said for years he had mistakenly blamed the engineer for not giving the information.
Mr. Seebold said the information about the true ownership of the property could have been gotten from a simple deed.
“It’s a no-brainer and you had it in 2004,” he said.
He said that Schoharie Supervisor Martin Shrederis had the information.
Mr. Shrederis responded, “Never saw it, sir.”
Mr. Seebold added, “We complained as soon as we saw the plans…We’ve been brushed off by everybody.”
The town and engineers should not have been following county tax maps which are just a representation, Mr. Seebold said.
His family has accommodated the association for 40 years, he said.
“Why are you taking our land to accommodate them?...
“I’m not going to be taken for a chump…Something’s definitely wrong.”
Other members of the public spoke on both sides of the issue.
Former association president Susan Brower said discussions had begun last year about making another entrance to the field but nothing was done.
Resident Paul Stoddard said the Seebolds have been great neighbors for years and he told the engineer that the project was being built on the Seebold property.
“Just to take their land away is just wrong,” he said.
Resident John Van Derwerken said people and the association had access to the fields for years and people are being deprived from using the field and recreation areas.
“For the good of the people, if we have to, take it by adverse possession,” he said.
Rosemary Christoff Dolan was against taking the land through eminent domain.
“What the towns are doing to this working farm is morally and ethically indefensible, reprehensible.”
Paul Slavinski, current president of the association, said the fields and playground were used by many people for events and activities.
“This is for the people of Central Bridge,” he said. “The kids are being penalized…I’d like to get it back for the kids.”
Resident Todd Cipperly said a survey or title search was not done. If one had been done, there would not have been a problem.
He asked why the district should have to pay for this mistake.
The cost should be paid by the engineering firm.
“You don’t build it on a property unless you’re sure where the property lines are,” he said.
Resident Dan Rosecrans also said the engineering firm should rectify the problem.
Property owner Eric Dolen said eminent domain is not the way to go.
“It’s wrong to take somebody’s property,” he said. “No one should have the right to take somebody’s land.”
Another resident, who wished not to be identified, said she thought the fields had always belonged to the association.
Schoharie town councilman Gene Milone was adamantly opposed to taking the property through eminent domain.
“When I hear the words eminent domain, I quiver,” he said. He told how the government took the land of many farmers where he grew up in Staten Island in the name of progress.
“I’ll have nothing to do with it,” he said. “Government is wrong here…If you buy into eminent domain, shame on you.”
Councilman Alan Tavenner said the district is not talking about taking 100 acres and the land has been apart “as long as anyone can remember.”
Mr. Brower suggested a professional mediator to resolve the matter and Mr. Seebold said there is still room to negotiate.
Mr. Shrederis, who said he was told that the Seebolds did not want him to help negotiate, which Mr. Seebold denied, said the boards will discuss negotiating for the purchase of the land before the next meeting.
Earlier in the day, Mr. VanWormer said the land had been appraised at $12,000 and the district offered the Seebolds significantly more.