Sometime this spring the city of Bend will begin work on a major new sewer line largely outside current city limits north of town. To ensure that the project moves forward smoothly, city officials are asking the City Council for the right to use eminent domain to create easements for the new line, if they’re necessary.
The city has the right to do that. The law allows it to condemn property it needs for projects that serve a “public purpose,” and it would be hard, probably impossible, to make a case that expanding the city’s sewer system is unnecessary.
City councilors will consider a motion on the subject Wednesday.
The sewer line will allow development of land in Juniper Ridge as well as land outside city limits but within the city’s urban growth boundary.
That means the argument, if there is one, is likely to focus on what the city has said it’s willing to pay and what a property owner thinks is enough for a temporary construction easement and, generally, a smaller permanent one. If the two sides disagree, the city can take the property, the county can sue the private owner in circuit court and a jury makes the final decision on an acceptable price.
That’s the sometimes ugly, generally most expensive way to get the easements the city needs, and it’s a way that should be used only as a last resort. Both property owner and city must put lawyers to work if the matter ends up in court, and that’s expensive. While the city could be required to pick up the tab when all is said and done, there’s no guarantee that will happen.
The law gives government a fair amount of power when it comes to questions of eminent domain, and with good reason. But good sense should tell city officials that using that power should be a last resort, not something they should do because it’s quicker than negotiating an outcome that works for both sides.