Spokane Journal of Business

STA starts condemnation process for light-rail land

14 acres of Union Pacific property near fairgrounds targeted for transit project

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The Spokane Transit Authority has taken steps to condemn about 14 acres of land near the Spokane County Fair & Expo Center to use as right of way for a proposed light-rail line and as a site for a passenger station.

STA filed a petition in late February to condemn the unused Union Pacific Railroad land between Havana Street and Fancher Road just south of the county fairgrounds. The land is north of UPs rail line.

We are pursuing an opportunity for STA, and for the region, to get all of the high-capacity corridor in public hands, says Allen Schweim, STAs executive director. Spokane County already owns the old Milwaukee Road railroad corridor, which would provide much of the right of way needed for a high-capacity transit project such as light rail, he says. A panel headed by Spokane County Commissioner Kate McCaslin is studying the feasibility of building such a line.

The land near the fairgrounds was identified in a transit study several years ago as a critical section of right of way for the proposed light-rail system and a good location for a passenger station. STA has budgeted about $1 million, which includes federal grant money and local matching funds, to acquire the land, Schweim says.

Omaha, Neb.-based Union Pacific has planned to sell the northern portion of its property between Fancher and Havana for several years, and the STA has been working with the railroad to conduct environmental surveys and other evaluations of the property, Schweim says. For about the last eight months, the STA and the railroad have been negotiating a price for the land, but havent been able to reach an agreement, he says.

Mike Furtney, a San Francisco-based spokesman for Union Pacific, says the railroad is basing its asking price for the land on the purchase price it got for the sale of other unused land at its yard here several years ago. He declines to disclose how much the railroad is asking for the land, but says the amount is substantially more than what STA has offered. Furtney says that although the land has been posted for sale for several years, he isnt aware of offers from any other potential buyers.

When a public entity and a private property owner cant reach a price for a sale agreement, the public entity can exercise its power of eminent domain and take the land for public use at a fair, market-value price determined by an appraisal, says Edward Johnson, an attorney at Perkins Coie who is handling the STA case.

This gets the ball rolling, Johnson says.

He says Union Pacific hasnt yet responded to the condemnation petition, which was filed in Spokane County Superior Court. If the case reaches trial, that trial wouldnt take place until next year, he says. The case could be settled before then if the STA and the railroad can reach an agreement on price, Johnson says.

Its a benefit to each of us to complete this quickly, Schweim says.

  • Anita Burke

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