County begins land condemnation process

LIVINGSTON – Although they hope it will lead to negotiations, the Polk County Commissioners Court voted Tuesday to begin condemnation proceedings to force the sale of land needed for a new bridge on the Dick Skinner Road in Precinct 3.

During their meeting, commissioners met with John Stover, the attorney hired to represent the county in the eminent domain case, and indicated that while they would proceed through the condemnation process, they hoped their action might prompt the landowner, John Wayne Martin, to negotiate.

Pct. 3 Commissioner Milt Purvis and County Judge Sydney Murphy both told Stover that up to this point, Martin has refused to communicate with the county. Purvis noted the Texas Department of Transportation has agreed to replace an old wooden county bridge over a tributary of the Neches River with a modern concrete and steel structure similar to those used on farm to market highways.

Under the TxDOT offsystem bridge program, the county is responsible for obtaining the needed right-ofway for the project and until the 0.3275 acres owned by Martin is acquired, the state cannot begin the project.

“This is a very unusual step for us,” Murphy said. “No one on this court wants to use the power of eminent domain but we do need the bridge and we are out of options.”

During the meeting, Stover indicated the county has already offered to pay Martin $1,900 for the right-of-way and he outlined the process the county would have to take to condemn the land.

Under the eminent domain process, the county will have to have the land appraised by a certified appraiser and then make a formal offer to buy the right-of-way.

He noted that after making their initial offer, the county would have to wait 30 days before making a final offer. If they get no response within 14 days, the county could ask the district court to appoint a special commission to set a price for the property. If Martin or the county object to the price set by the commission, either could appeal to the district court.

However, at that point the county could accept the price set by the commission and pay that amount into a special account held by the registrar of the district court. They could then take possession of the property and TxDOT could build the bridge. Martin could either accept the payment for the land or appeal the amount to the district court.

Stover said the county would not have to wait for any appeal filed by Martin to be completed. Purvis said he would prefer to negotiate directly with Martin regarding the right-of-way and hoped that opening the condemnation process would convince the landowner to take that route.