Seminars to focus on property in bypass’s path

After more than a decade of debate, it appears construction on the Monroe Bypass will begin in early 2015. So the NC Eminent Domain Law Firm will soon begin informing residents in the path of the new freeway what their rights are.

Attorneys Stan Abrams and Jason Campbell will hold the first of four planned seminars on Thursday, Aug. 14, to inform residents of their rights when dealing with any state offers regarding their property. The meeting will take place at Quality Inn & Suites, 13470 E. Independence Blvd. at 7 p.m. 

The North Carolina Department of Transportation resumed right-of-way activities, which include acquiring property for public use, after receiving approval in May from the Federal Highway Administration to move forward with construction plans.

The project, a 19.7-mile toll road that will go from U.S. 74 at Interstate 485 in Mecklenburg County to U.S. 74 between Wingate and Marshville in Union County, is hoped to ease congestion along U.S. 74. Construction has been delayed for years as opponents have cited environmental, economic and property rights issues as reasons to halt NCDOT through lawsuits and injunctions. 

Abrams and Campbell hope the new meetings will clear up questions some may have about the process of accepting the state’s offer for their property. The attorneys will answer questions regarding how properties will be appraised and whether landowners will be able to negotiate. 

By North Carolina law, property owners whose land or businesses are targeted for acquisition will receive an offer from the state. If they choose not to accept, the state will acquire the land through condemnation and deposit the amount of the original offer with the county clerk under the landowner’s name. 

The seminars are aimed at letting property owners know that there is another option called “second check.” Second check amounts to the right to negotiate for a better offer without losing the one you’ve already been given. 

While the NC Eminent Domain Law Firm has set its sights on helping people get what they deserve from the state, the Southern Environmental Law Center, which has been the construction project’s biggest obstacle over the past few years, is continuing its fight to stop the highway from being built at all. 

The United States Court of Appeals sided with the SELC in 2012 in stating that state and federal authorities did not properly consider the highway’s environmental impact. The courts overturned that decision on May 3, 2014, and NCDOT resumed pre-construction activities. 

The SELC once again filed suit in June and is awaiting an answer from both state (NCDOT) and federal (FHWA) defendants. They have not filed an injunction to halt the NCDOT’s activities because the department cannot move forward with construction until they acquire more permits, said Kym Hunter, SELC attorney. 

If there is no court actions by the time those permits are in place and it looks as if the NCDOT is ready to start construction, the SELC will attempt to file an injunction stopping their activities until the lawsuit is handled in court, Hunter said. 

“There are a lot of people in Union County who do not want this bypass, and it runs the gamut as to why they don’t want it,” she said. “There are people losing property, farms that have been in families for centuries. There are people who think it’s a waste of money, a source of air pollution. We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback for fighting this thing.”

The SELC stated in its most recent lawsuit that the new highway would displace 95 homes, 47 businesses, three churches and 499 acres of agricultural land. 

Most of the needed property on the eastern part of the project was acquired over a decade ago, when a smaller bypass was first planned. NCDOT is currently in the process of appraising and making offers on the property on the western end of the proposed bypass, in towns such as Stallings. 

The department still needs to acquire construction permits, including ones from the Army Corps of Engineers and North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources that were revoked two years ago when the courts ordered construction halted. Transportation officials hope to have all permits acquired and design work done in time to start construction during the early part of 2015, said Rick Baucom, NCDOT project manager. 

“We feel like we’ve answered all the questions that were raised in the previous court case,” Baucom said. “We’re moving forward 100 percent.” 

Abrams and Campbell plan to hold three more meetings on the same topic in Monroe in September and October.

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Ryan Pitkin

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