There is hesitancy surrounding the Leechburg Area School District’s turf project for its Veterans’ Field Sports Complex, as the Leechburg council delayed approval of the project until its April meeting, according to an article posted on TribLive on March 21, 2021.
The article states that the project, which will replace its natural grass with turf, as well as install a track around the field and accompanying underground drainage, was introduced over a year ago. The claimed benefits would be a reduction in maintenance costs as well as preventing field closures due to rain. In a related article posted on the same website on January 30, 2020, the engineering firm who presented the project to the school board stated it would reduce storm water runoff to the properties surrounding the field by about 80%–a huge reduction no matter how you interpret it.
But there are some figures that are not adding up regarding this reduction, as well as the potential impacts to five privately owned residential properties. In the recent article, the proposal stated that storm water runoff would be reduced between 14% to 17%, which is not even close to the originally stated 80% reduction. The other issue which ties into that calculation is the affected properties from which easements are required. The article points to the proposed drainage pipe not being the full length of the drainage swell and that an alternative proposed by one of the property owners could be to have the pipe continue so that it connects to the municipal storm water system, or through the installation of a catch basin. Either way, there is some discrepancy about exactly where and by how much water the proposed drainage system will direct away from the properties or potentially towards the affected properties. Without being able to have access to the plans as well as consulting with an experienced engineer, there is no genuine method to assess potential damages, and I certainly am not doing so in this blog entry.
I am, however, bringing up the potential issue of damages, or more specifically called, damages to the remainder. Damages to the remainder can happen to properties which have a part taken from it, and the remaining part of the property is damaged in some way, hence the name, damages to the remainder. In this case, the school district wants approval to use the power of eminent domain to obtain these easements. The easement is the taking–whether permanent or temporary–it is legally a taking. Therefore, for those properties, each negative impact to their property would be a damage. The article quotes a property owner who contends his property will flood more after the project, not less. Of course, there could be other issues as well, like a reduction to the overall value of a property which is encumbered by an easement, grading issues, loss of landscaping, and more. If it were a commercial property, other potential issues could be loss of signage or negative impact to underground utilities. As you can see, the damages can vary based upon the specific details of both the project as well as the property. The taking agency must also justly compensate for the damages to the remainder.
The other questionable part of the story is the fact that the property owners maintain the school district has failed to negotiate the easements required from 5 privately-owned properties. Instead of negotiating, they claim, they simply dropped off paperwork requesting an easement. This sort of ‘negotiation’ is not uncommon; in eminent domain matters in Illinois, the taking agency is required to engage in “good faith negotiations” which involve negotiators who relay offers from the taking agency and counteroffers from the property owner. However, there is almost always no budging on behalf of the taking agency. The ‘negotiation’ in this case does not even appear to have the façade of the back-and-forth activity you would normally see in a negotiated transaction, though, as stated, when it comes to eminent domain, a true negotiation, by the average person’s definition, is rare.
The last aspect of this project that is suspect is the fact that on the school board’s own website are documents for disseminating information about the field. If you look at their “Turf Versus Grass Cost Analysis” attachment, the figures are literally not adding up. They claim that the total savings after ten years, including installation and yearly maintenance, is $210,000, but if you look at the line items, you will see that deep cleaning for turf is performed every 4 years, not every year, therefore, the savings amounts to $90,000 over the span of ten years, after which it is presumed that new turf will need to be reinstalled. That is less than half the amount they claim in savings, though that is only one piece of the puzzle. It is rather telling, though, that these official, published documents are not accurate and are incredibly misleading.
The one glimmer of hope is that the property owners have retained counsel, and for their sake, I hope they have competent attorneys highly experienced in the intricacies of the eminent domain legal niche.
65 ILCS 5 §11-74.2-9. (Illinois Compiled Statutes through P.A. 94-1055 of the 2007 Legis. Sess.). Accessed 23 Mar. 2021.
Leechburg Area School District. “Turf versus grass cost analysis.” Veterans Field Project. https://www.leechburg.k12.pa.us/apps/pages/index.jsp?uREC_ID=2127473&type=d&pREC_ID=2157297. Accessed 23 Mar. 2021.
Simonton, Teghan. “Plan for Updating Leechburg Area Football Field Tabled at Council Meeting.” TribLive, 21 Mar. 2021, https://triblive.com/local/valley-news-dispatch/plan-for-updating-leechburg-area-football-field-tabled-at-council-meeting/. Accessed 23 Mar. 2021.
Yerace, Tom. “Turf Field Would Reduce Water Runoff in Leechburg, Officials Say.” TribLive, 13 Jan. 2020. https://triblive.com/local/valley-news-dispatch/turf-field-would-reduce-water-runoff-in-leechburg-officials-say/. Accessed 23 Mar. 2021.