The Saratoga County Water Authority can begin building its new water line across private property even where landowners have objections, a state Supreme Court judge decided Friday.
The eminent domain ruling by Judge Thomas D. Nolan Jr. gives the authority immediate construction access to the properties, pending a hearing on May 16 that could give the authority land ownership by condemnation.
“We’re very pleased with the ruling,” said authority Chairman John E. Lawler, R-Waterford.
The decision involves about 24 landowners along the 28-mile pipeline route that will run from the upper Hudson River in Moreau to the Luther Forest Technology Campus in Malta. Most landowners have reached agreements with the authority, but it began eminent domain proceedings last year against the rest.
There are a number of individual property owners involved in the court case, but also several corporations, including CP Rail, the Saratoga Springs YMCA and Brookfield Power.
Lawler said the authority continues to negotiate with CP Rail and Brookfield to reach voluntary agreements that avoid condemnation, and may be able to avoid using the YMCA property by using public rights of way. He said officials remain willing to talk with any of the landowners.
Eminent domain is government’s power to take private land over the owner’s objections if it is for the greater public interest. If Nolan grants the condemnations at the May 16 hearing, that would start a process under which compensation payments would be independently established for each landowner.
Settlements can be reached at any time in the process, and the number of properties in question has shrunk significantly since last year.
“It’s an ongoing process of achieving amicable resolutions,” said Mark Schachner of Glens Falls, the water authority’s eminent domain lawyer.
At Friday’s hearing in Ballston Spa, two landowners appeared to state their objections.
Debbie Zetterstrom spoke for her 83-year-old mother. The water line would run through her farm on the southern edge of Saratoga Springs, and the family fears hay fields will be lost.
“I’m interested in protecting my mother’s home and property,” Zetterstrom said.
Zetterstrom said the family isn’t concerned with the amount of money offered, but would like promises that farm animals will be protected during construction, that her mother will be notified in advance when workers come on the land, that an existing drainage ditch will be replaced, and that no work on adjoining property will cause damage on her family’s property.
“It’s not a money issue and she’s not against public water. It’s a land protection issue,” Zetterstrom said.
The Zetterstrom family says 11 acres on the farm were ruined when the county sewer line was built through their property in the 1970s, because a berm contractors built led to flooding. The water line will run parallel to the sewer line.
Nolan ordered the authority to post $50,000 or bond toward restoration of properties after the pipe is installed, including $17,000 specifically to restore the properties of Zetterstrom and William Orthwein of Greenfield, the other property owner who was in court.
Lawler said the bond should be posted by Monday at the latest, and with good weather construction should proceed quickly.
“Now that we have access to the properties, we’ll be going full bore,” Lawler said.
The water project is integral infrastructure to attracting the $3.2 billion Advanced Micro Devices computer chip factory being planned for the Luther Forest Technology.
Work on the $67 million water project began last summer. The goal is to complete it by late this year.
In addition to the Luther Forest campus buying water, the towns of Ballston and Wilton will be buying water, and officials hope to attract more municipal customers.
Also, Lawler reported that the authority on Thursday signed an agreement with the state Environmental Facilities Corp. to receive a $10 million grant toward construction costs. It’s part of $30 million in promised state grant money for the project.
The grant was announced in 2006, but appeared in jeopardy a few weeks ago because of objections from the authority to the wording of a liability protection clause in the grant agreement.
“We’ve changed the language in a way that’s acceptable to everybody,” Lawler said.