Fort Smith Sewer Project Could Require Eminent Domain As ‘Last Resort’

FORT SMITH (KFSM) — The city is working to buy several pieces of property from landowners to move a major sewer project forward, but it could require the city to resort to eminent domain if the property owners don't comply.

“It wasn't affecting any of our operations, the land that they were asking for so we agreed to it,” Eugene Rogers said.

Rogers is the plant manager of H.J. Baker and Bro Inc. LLC. They blend animal proteins for poultry. He said the city came to them saying they'd need a small portion of their land for ‘Phase One’ of a sewer project.

“[We] were excited to help,” Rogers said.

At Tuesday’s (Sept. 19) board meeting, city directors voted unanimously to allow the city to buy land in the path of the project.

“What we're doing as were acquiring land and easements on land so that we can increase the pipe size for our sewer plan,” City Director Keith Lau said.

Utilities Director Jerry Walters said the project will affect 22 landowners. He said two of them were not happy about it. 5NEWS reached out to both property owners on Wednesday (Sept. 20) with no luck.

“All these properties were appraised by a certified appraiser and a value was given, and they weren`t happy with the values,” Lau explained.

The project is required to move a federal consent decree forward. The city engineer said this portion of the project will go down P Street, essentially the distance between Odom’s Wholesale and MLK Park. By law, the city must acquire the rights from the nearly two dozen property owners in the path to do the work.

“The next step when you're not happy with the value ultimately, we'd like to negotiate it and buy it, but if you're not happy, then there's a process called eminent domain,” Lau said.

Eminent domain involves a court proceeding where the city and landowner present their evidence, which is each party’s appraised value of the property.

“In a jury of your peers then they decide what's equitable and what the fair price would be for the property, so that we can acquire the easement or the property,” Lau said.

The city is hoping to start this portion of the project by the beginning of next year. It's expected to be complete by the fall of 2019.

It's all part of a bigger $480 million sewer project. The city has 12 years to get that done under the mandate of the consent decree.