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Backup plan: use eminent domain to take slugde property

One month after suing Rayonier in an effort to force the sale of 114 acres of company land to the city for a sewage sludge disposal site, the Macclenny City Commission has already launched its backup plan: taking the property under the state’s power of eminent domain.

The strategy, which enables governmental agencies to take private property for a public use and requires a jury trial to determine the price to be paid, was recommended by City Attorney Frank Maloney in the event the city loses the lawsuit.

Commissioners approved the eminent domain measure during a board meeting on the evening of February 12, four weeks after filing the civil action in circuit court asking the court to order Rayonier to honor a contract it later reneged on after agreeing to sell the parcel to a Realtor working on behalf of the city in June 2012.

Before reading a resolution explaining the necessity of acquiring the Rayonier property for a public purpose, Mr. Maloney told commissioners he wanted to employ “both (legal) proceedings in case something happens to our specific performance lawsuit.”

 

“Specific performance” is a legal term for enforcing a contractual agreement after one party attempts to back out of the agreement.

The existing disposal site for the city’s treated wastewater sludge, on farmland north of Glen St. Mary, may not be available much longer and a “sense of urgency” has arisen, the city attorney stated.

City Manager Gerald Dopson said Rayonier officials have asked the city to drop the lawsuit in exchange for the company’s pledge to come up with an alternative site. However, he said the company had previously offered to do that but later refused to sell any land to the city for a sludge field.

“We just need something that will serve the city’s needs to dispose of its treated wastewater,” Mr. Dopson said. “We’ve been backed into a corner.”

The city manager said Rayonier expressed concerns that its surrounding timberlands could be devalued by the presence of a sewage sludge field nearby. He does not believe that would happen because the proposed site would be well buffered by a wide band of trees and brush.

“The city does not want any adversarial problems with Rayonier,” Mr. Dopson said. “I would encourage Rayonier to look at this as an opportunity to work with the city” to resolve a public need issue.

The resolution unanimously adopted by the commission states the declaration of a “public necessity to acquire title through condemnation by right of eminent domain to certain real property … for the construction, maintenance and operation of a spray field for the treatment of bio-solids generated at the (city) wastewater treatment plant …”

The document further asserts that the proposed spray field is “necessary to economically meet standards for waste disposal imposed by the State of Florida and will enhance and maintain the reliability and integrity of the city’s wastewater treatment.”

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