City officials say they can obtain without condemnation almost half the property needed for the creation of a sewage lagoon, possibly this week.
In February, the City Council voted unanimously to begin condemnation proceedings against two families of south Utah County fruit farmers. However, attorney Ken Chamberlain told the council it is required to exhaust all avenues of negotiation before condemnation can begin.That legal opinion ended months of speculation that the city would condemn 43 acres owned by Ricki and Barbara Rowley and Dick and Dale Saunders. Mayor Lynn Crook said their property is needed for construction of a sewer lagoon - part of a $4.7 million wastewater treatment and disposal system project that Santaquin voters approved in a bond election last summer.
City Councilman Keith Broadhead said that while the Rowleys have retained the services of Salt Lake attorney William Thurman Sr. to contest possible condemnation proceedings, the Saunderses have remained amicable toward property negotiations.
"It looks as though we've reached an agreement to buy their property," Broadhead said. "We might even sign a contract within the week."
According to Broadhead, the city cannot disclose the exact terms of the agreement for the Saunders' 20 acres, but it is a key step in the project's progression.
"We've been trying to be as nice as possible, so obviously we're very happy to get even this much done so far," he said.
Also, the agreement will allow the Saunderses to farm on the property until the city takes possession in September, when officials hope to begin construction of the lagoon.
"That timing will allow us to get out of the mite and dust problems," Broadhead said. "We'll wait until most of the farmers have harvested their crops for the year."
As far as the Rowleys' property is concerned, Broadhead said, officials are just "waiting for the court date."
The Rowleys have not allowed city surveying crews on the property to conduct feasibility studies, and Broadhead said that the city will have to purchase the property - through condemnation - before those studies can take place.
"We have to pay 75 percent of the land's appraised value and take immediate occupancy of it before we can make those tests," he said. "We're just starting that paperwork now."
Broadhead also said he is waiting for information from the federal Department of Health and Department of Ecology that proves "lagoons and orchards can co-exist."
"We're just trying to prove to the other farmers that this can work out to both our benefits," he said. "But we're still waiting on this information and a bunch more things."