Westport select board deadlocks on Route 6 eminent domain

Hartnett requested taking properties to secure pump station easements on Route 6

By Ted Hayes
Posted 5/24/24

A divided Westport Select Board deadlocked Monday night on a plan to take two State Road properties west of Route 88 by eminent domain, a move the town administrator said would shore up the …

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Westport select board deadlocks on Route 6 eminent domain

Hartnett requested taking properties to secure pump station easements on Route 6

Posted

A divided Westport Select Board deadlocked Monday night on a plan to take two State Road properties west of Route 88 by eminent domain, a move the town administrator said would shore up the town’s options in the wake of the $35 million sewer and water project’s failure at the polls last month and at Town Meeting earlier this month.

With member Steve Ouellette absent, board members voted 2-2 on the request, with Manny Soares and chairwoman Shana Teas voting against and Richard Brewer and Craig Dutra voting for it. With a tie, the motion failed.

Hartnett said taking the properties for pump station easements would give the town flexibility in planning water service improvements despite the water and sewer project’s failure.

The two easements — one at 35 State Road, the other at the Meatworks facility — are well along in the planning process, the properties have been appraised, and both are part of the $35 million project’s first phase (contract), he said. The town has $54,000 in ARPA funds allocated to acquire them.

Hartnett said he has reached out to both property owners and while neither “has come out and said they agreed to the taking, they have not opposed to the taking. They’re ready to be taken if the board so chooses.”

Not all were convinced.

“My first thought when I saw this is, ‘Why would we need these taken since the project hasn’t been authorized to move forward yet?’” Teas asked. “I know I’m hesitant to do anything to advance the sewer part of the project given the recent vote.”

Soares also opposed the measure as the wording of the agenda item referenced only the two stations to the west of Route 88. There are two others on the east side, both part of the failed project’s Phase II and Phase III portions, he said, and those should have been included.

“The other two aren’t as far advanced,” Hartnett explained when Soares asked why they weren’t. “We don’t have survey plans done, we don’t have appraisals. We could.”

Soares motioned that all four projects be approved for the eminent domain process, and was seconded by Dutra. But he later withdrew his motion, agreeing with Brewer that it would be best to not deviate from the agenda and instead stick with the two on the west side of 88.

“The wording of the easements is west of Route 88,” Brewer said. “It’s really a procedural thing but I think we need to adhere to that. Eminent domain is a very serious issue. They sometimes can take a bad turn. I have no issue with the two that have been noticed. But (Soares’) motion includes four. That’s my problem. I might be inclined to vote for (all four), but not tonight.”

After more discussion, Dutra motioned to approve Hartnett’s request as written. With Ouellette absent, the board split the vote and the motion was defeated.

Added Teas: “I think it’s too soon to ask. I think the voters have been very clear that they are cautious of the whole sewer project. I think an eminent domain taking is not appropriate at this time.”

The plan is likely to come back at the next board meeting, as Soares requested that it be put back on the agenda with all four stations included.

Should it come to that and should eminent domain be approved, Hartnett said the town would not immediately start the taking process. Instead, the vote would allow him and the town’s legal counsel to work toward that point. Any taking by eminent domain would need to be authorized by a future select board vote.

“We want to take it by eminent domain regardless of if it was a friendly taking or not,” Hartnett said, noting that the process only requires select board approval.

Having spoken to Meatworks officials, he said, “They have not said they would favor it or be opposed to it. Whether or not they agree to the price of the appraisal has not been determined at this point.”

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