Tuolumne County supervisors took the rare step Tuesday of authorizing the use of eminent domain if necessary to avoid further delays on a project to replace the one-lane Rawhide Road bridge over Woods Creek in Jamestown which is in construction site for more than 20 years.
After a public hearing in which one person spoke against the proposal, the County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a resolution that allows county staff to begin the process of seizing private land through an eminent domain for the replacement of more than a century. old bridge.
“I never got into county politics wanting…it never even crossed my mind to use eminent domain,” said county supervisor Anaiah Kirk, who serves as the board’s chairwoman. administration. “Nobody ever wants to do that, but there are certain cases that come up and come to our attention that we have to deal with and we have to make decisions, and we’re going through the process.
“Our job as supervisors is to make sure the process is done in a fair and correct manner, so I feel like you (county staff) have done a great job of doing that.”
The land in question is a small undeveloped portion of a 0.78 acre parcel at 18430 Jamestown Road owned by Jim Lillie, owner of Pine Alley Saw Shop which is located elsewhere on the property.
Lillie said her business would not be affected by the loss of the 0.057 acre parcel the county is set to take over, but the two parties have been unable to reach an agreement on compensation for the land. through voluntary negotiations.
County supervising engineer Blossom Scott-Heim said the most recent offer to Lillie was above the estimated fair market value of the property after asking for an amount that was twice the estimated fair market value.
The county did not disclose the estimated fair market value of the property or the amounts offered, which county legal advisers say are part of ongoing confidential negotiations.
Scott-Heim said the county will continue to try to negotiate with Lillie in hopes of resolving the matter out of court, but council approval will allow work to continue on the project in the interim.
“We will continue to negotiate even if you pass the resolution today,” Scott-Heim said before the board vote, “but at this point we risk delaying the project even further if we can’t resolve this problem”.
Lillie did not attend the in-person meeting on Tuesday or provide remote comment.
The project required the county to negotiate through a third-party consultant with three other landowners to relocate a business and acquire six additional parcels, all of which have since been closed in receivership.
Scott-Heim said the current bridge, built in 1909, is considered “functionally obsolete” and will be replaced with a new two-lane bridge. The project will also realign Rawhide Road to create a new four-way intersection with a traffic light at Highway 108 and Main Street (see slide above for aerial view and full project description).
Planning for the project began in 1999 before the county applied for funding from the Federal Highway Bridge Program, which pays the bulk of the roughly $12 million in estimated total costs.
Over $2 million has already been spent over the years to complete the studies required before construction begins.
Jaron Brandon, County Supervisor for District 5 which includes Jamestown, explained how the project will improve safety in the area by relieving traffic congestion issues caused by the current single-lane bridge and road alignment.
“It improves safety on and off Main Street compared to the freeway, which has been an area of maintenance and safety issues,” he said.
Brandon said he supports the resolution to move the process forward, but stressed he would prefer to see the county continue to work toward a voluntary settlement with Lillie.
The aim is to finally launch the project next year, although Scott-Heim noted that they are currently working through other delays related to the relocation of utilities.
It is only the second time since 2007 that the council has taken the step towards using eminent domain, which allows the government to take private property for public use under certain conditions, usually for infrastructure projects.
“It would be hard to argue that Tuolumne County is entering eminent domain lightly,” County Supervisor Ryan Campbell said.
The only other time was in 2019, when council unanimously approved the process for a separate project, but Scott-Heim said the county was able to reach a settlement with the landlord in the matter. before invoking eminent domain.