After a lengthy discussion and with some hesitation, the Starke County Commissioners yesterday gave their unanimous approval to allow Lawson Fisher Associates, a civil engineering company from South Bend, to pursue land acquisition through imminent domain for a county project.
Charles Weaver, the executive director of the Starke County Economic Development Foundation, approached the commissioners with an update on the County Road 300 East and State Road 8 project. Weaver explained the project, which is essentially a reconstruction project, began several years ago with a request to INDOT to help fund the work, which he said aims to accommodate a larger amount of trucks in that area. He said it became a safety issue because of the increased amount of traffic, and in order to allow for greater economic growth, that bottleneck needs to be rectified.
Weaver told the commissioners that the work, which begins just south of the Culver Road intersection and continues north toward the industrial park, has hit a bit of a snag; the county must acquire tiny portions of 26 parcels to accommodate the construction. While 17 of the parcel landowners have signed offers from the county to allow them to use roughly 10 feet of their property near the road, at least two landowners have been declining the offers and refusing to talk to officials.
Because there is a Sept. 20 deadline under INDOT that the county must meet, the commissioners were faced with a serious dilemma. They could choose to continue trying to negotiate with the reluctant landowners, or use imminent domain to acquire the land. The letting for bids on the project has already been pushed back due to resistance, and as a result, the commissioners had no choice but to proceed with condemnation of the parcels. Commissioners Kent Danford and Jennifer Davis were hesitant to pull the trigger, prompting Commissioner Kathy Norem to make the motion. The commissioners approved the motion unanimously to allow the company to proceed with condemnation.