Eminent domain likely next step for B.B. King Road sidewalk project
The vote was unanimous on Monday night as the Indianola city leaders agreed to enter into contract with the law firm of Crosthwait, Terney and Noble, specifically Attorney Richard Noble, to have him proceed with the process of eminent domain in order to acquire the rights to several small pieces of property from landowners along a stretch of B.B. King Road.
Since 2012, the city has been trying to get more than 30 property owners along a stretch from Roosevelt Street south to Wiggins Road to sell a 1.5 to 3-foot section of their lot to construct sidewalks for the safety of the people walking along there, mainly students attending Gentry High School.
The originally proposed project was dubbed a Blues Historical Trail to honor Indianola legend B.B. King.
According to City Engineer Ron Cassada, it was a $450,000 project that was partially funded through the Mississippi Department of Transportation’s Transportation Alternative Program with an 80/20 match for the city.
Most of the owners have consented; however, there are still a few holdouts, which has prevented the initiation of the project.
City Attorney Kim Merchant said she met with MDOT and others on Monday to basically assess where the city is currently with regard to the acquisition of those properties.
"And we've narrowed it down to about five that are still outstanding,” she said.
Merchant added, “Approximately two, no more than three will have to go through eminent domain or what we call condemnation proceedings, which is in essence where we have to go to the court and get a court order to obtain the strip of property that we need to do the sidewalk."
Merchant said that she had contacted Noble because he has extensive experience in dealing with eminent domain.
And based on that conversation, she is hopeful that they will be able to get the process completed in three to four months using the "quick take" procedure and that hopefully construction can begin in 2021.
Merchant said, "MDOT continues to reach out wanting to know the status of this. We need to wrap this up quickly, expeditiously, so that we can move forward with this project. We already have so much time and money and effort put into it, there's no going back on this project.”
Merchant added, "The $250 an hour is reasonable giving Mr. Noble's years of experience that he brings to these proceedings and also his experience working with these MDOT condemnation proceedings. He has been working with the Mississippi Department of Transportation for years doing these eminent domain and condemnations proceedings. He has a lot of expertise and experience in that.”
She noted that the properties in question are heir properties and it has been difficult getting all of the owners to sign since they are located all over the nation. She also mentioned one situation where they have only been able to talk to the property owner through her daughter and she is unwilling to sign.
Merchant stressed that the owners will get fair value for their strip of property.
Cassada also stressed the importance of moving ahead with constructing the sidewalks citing how dangerous it is for pedestrians who walk along that street; specifically the area with the deep ditches and confirmed that the project was first proposed in August 2012. “B.B. King was alive when we started this thing,” he said.
Cassada also said the project was tied specifically to King and not the museum. He said the sidewalk would also serve as a tourist attraction because facts about King and his life would be featured at each intersection.