Eminent domain possible for Highway 47 sidewalk project

By: 
Adam Rollins
Staff Writer

The city of Warrenton is about halfway through acquiring easements for sidewalks along North Highway 47, and it’s becoming increasingly likely that eminent domain will be necessary to complete the job, according to City Administrator Terri Thorn.

Easements from private property owners along North Highway 47 are necessary for construction of 2 1/2 miles of sidewalk connecting the North Service Road to Hickory Lick Road. The city engaged a private agency late last year to acquire those easements, estimating the process would take about a year.

Thorn told the Warrenton Board of Aldermen July 7 that there are eight pieces of property where the city has had difficulty reaching an easement agreement with the property owner. If an agreement can’t be reached, the city will have to file a court petition to obtain the easements, Thorn said.

“My belief is that of that eight, there will probably be four that will need to go to some kind of legal action,” Thorn said.

Representatives of the city are still in final negotiations with the property owners. Thorn said a decision will be made in August as to which properties to take legal action on.

The move would be necessary to keep the sidewalk project on schedule, Thorn explained.

“It’s going to be a lengthy process, but we’re still within our time frames that were set,” she commented.

The $2.8 million sidewalk construction project is being funded in part by $1.4 million from the Missouri Department of Transportation.

The sidewalk will be built along the west side of Highway 47 from the North Service Road to Fairgrounds Road, then switch to the east side of the highway from Fairgrounds Road to Hickory Lick Road.

City Attorney Christopher Graville said if the city needs to condemn a property in order to obtain sidewalk easements, it would probably take about 60 days between initiating that process and actually filing a lawsuit. However, previous experience has shown that some property owners become more willing to negotiate once the city initiates legal action, Graville said.

But there is one big holdup that could drag this process out: Acquiring easements through an eminent domain lawsuit could require a jury trial. And as Graville pointed out, jury trials aren’t currently allowed in Missouri due to COVID-19.

The questions of when jury trials will resume, and where in line Warrenton will be to get a trial for the sidewalk easements, could significantly affect the project timeline.

“It could be a year, depending on when we would fall (in the court schedule),” Graville said.

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