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To eminent domain or not to? That is the question

In Penn Township, Pennsylvania, residents and town officials recently have been using a phrase that some think consists of dirty words: eminent domain. With 15 properties affected by an upcoming road project, the town has hired a service to appraise the needed portion of land and negotiate with the homeowners on the township's behalf.

In most cases, the township needs just a few feet from each property and the deed to most of the parcels will revert to the owners once the road work is finished.

While a representative of the land acquisition service firm said he did not anticipate any roadblocks in acquiring the necessary properties, he held open the possibility that the township will need to invoke its powers of eminent domain should he encounter a reluctant seller.

He said the township's commissioners need to prepare now for that possibility by setting up an escrow account to hold the money required to do so. The township intends to put the project out to bid in mid-February and must have all the necessary land. If eminent domain ultimately is needed, setting up the account might delay the targeted bid date, he said.

The commissioners, however, do not want to the public to fear the township is coming for their property. Two commissioners said the option of eminent domain should be considered only when it is a need, not a possibility.

However, another commissioner said he did not want to delay the Center Street project again and does not want to jeopardize its start date. The project has been in township plans since the 1990s.

It is understandable and commendable that township leaders do not want to start a panic among local residents. However, sometimes using the power of eminent domain is the only way to complete projects for public improvement. When the concept and the narrow focus of the project are explained to them, residents likely will be rational and understand that the township will not target their properties next.

Source: The Evening Sun, "Penn's eminent domain talk draws heat," Craig K. Paskoski, Sept. 7, 2012

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