The city of Lake Ozark is considering the use of eminent domain to obtain a strip of land officials say is needed to build a service road to a lakeside sanitary sewer lift station

The city of Lake Ozark is considering the use of eminent domain to obtain a strip of land officials say is needed to build a service road to a lakeside sanitary sewer lift station.

The board of aldermen approved first reading of an ordinance that authorizes the use of eminent domain for a utility easement to the Twin Oaks lift station. Second reading is expected at the next regular board meeting March 13.

The city and Twin Oaks Subdivision property owners have been at odds for months over the city's proposal to build a service road from a cul de sac at the end of Red Oak Road down a gully to the lift station. Homeowners say there are other options the city has refused to consider; city officials say they have done their due diligence and point to safety and expediency concerns in pushing for the service road.

Eminent domain allows governments to secure private property and convert it into public use, and the ultimate decision is with the courts.

For the second time, Twin Oaks Lift Station homeowners were represented by an attorney in a plea to the board to delay a decision on moving forward, or to pursue other options for accessing the lift station.

Rachel Flaster of Stinson Leonard Street law firm and representing property owners and speaking during the Public Comment portion of the agenda, asked the board to "refrain" from approving the road. 

"We believe the board lacks the information relative to a decision and we request an opportunity to be heard and answer questions before the city moves forward with its eminent domain action on my clients' property," she said.

She said she and her clients believe the board is being ask to approve the project based on a partial understanding of Missouri Department of Natural Resources guidelines that only apply to pump stations that are being newly constructed or upsized, and "neither of those is occurring at the Twin Oaks pump station."

Flaster said it also appears city staff is interpreting DNR guidelines without considering every aspect of the guidelines applicable to this particular project. These include sight slope, grade, elevation, natural resources impact and the pump's proximity to a recreational body of water.

City Administrator Dave Van Dee said an October deadline is looming for meeting consent judgement requirements.

"We need to keep moving on the project," he said. "I still hope to reach an amicable agreement, but I guess I have to say that while in appreciate Ms. Foster's comments I honestly believe we've taken most of the variables into consideration, all issues leading us to believe we need better access to the lift station."

Van Dee said the city has made several attempts to reach an amicable agreement with the Twin Oaks Subdivision property owners through outright purchase or securing the necessary easements. It should also be noted, he said, that the city already has an easement for an existing sewer line, but it is not wide enough to facilitate the installation of the access road.  

"The city is not taking this action by choice, but rather it is being done out of necessity and a sense of urgency," he said.

The city currently has access to the lift station down a steep, 111-step walkway and adjacent equally steep paved walkway that does not allow for use of proper equipment to access, remove or repair the lift station. Van Dee has cited potential safety and expediency issues in having to use the current access  system.

A representative of McClure Engineering, the company tasked with designing the access road, told the board that DNR permits are in place and his staff has taken into account the environmental concerns. 

"Those are part of the rules we have to follow," he explained. "This road just isn't for convenience. Safety is paramount and this all works together for a great public project. The city needs safe, reliable access when they pull a pump and put it in the back of a truck."

He said the project is an upgrade to the existing lift station, countering one of the objections raised by the homeowners.

The city will be taking several additional steps before the actual eminent domain action proceeds, Van Dee said. The city will secure a formal appraisal of the property, and it will extend an additional offer to buy or lease the property in hopes of a negotiated agreement.

If that fails, a Condemnation Commission will be formed to hear and then present the case. Once that decision is made, the city will be able to proceed with the project. Property owners could appeal a Condemnation Commission decision to district court. 

Foster left the door open for a settlement.

"Homeowners are committed to working with the city staff to find a solution," he said. "One that is something that benefits the city's sewer system and natural resources and also avoids taking private property or wastes public resources," she said.