State transportation board members decided Thursday to condemn ranch property in the path of the Carson City freeway, but the uncertain price of the property made at least one member wonder if the state could afford the city's bypass.
The decision by members of the Nevada Board of Transportation will allow the state and the Lompa family to continue negotiations and could keep both parties out of court. It also began a process that could delay construction of the southern phase of the Carson City freeway.
Led by Gov. Kenny Guinn, transportation board members initially balked at the idea of beginning condemnation proceedings without the opportunity to review the state's appraisal of roughly 85 acres of the Lompa ranch south of Highway 50 East.
In June, state appraisers offered the family around $2.8 million for 62 acres for the actual freeway, which works out to $28,079 per acre, 20 acres of permanent easements -- $25, 271 an acre -- for drainage channels and three acres of temporary construction easements. The Lompa family rejected the state's offer.
Guinn was upset that the state's offer appeared to be the lowest on the table. He and other transportation decision makers had no idea what the ceiling cost for the property could be.
Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa argued that right-of-way acquisition costs statewide were becoming problematic.
The cost of the Carson freeway "far exceeded the estimates of what it was going to cost us," she said, and at some point, the state "will have to face the reality of what can we afford."
"If we can't go and work this out, there will have to be some discussions that this board will have to make about the viability of this project," Del Papa said.
It's hard to talk about ending the project when part of it is built already, said Guinn in reference to bridges in North Carson built for the freeway's first phase.
Del Papa recommended that while board members could begin condemnation, they not seek occupancy on the property until the state knows how much the property will cost. Occupancy would allow construction while negotiations continue over the property's value.
Mayor Ray Masayko said Thursday it is likely the freeway project will "continue in some sort of limbo." Masayko argued the Lompa property is necessary mostly for construction of the freeway's second phase.
With some creative thinking, the property needed for drainage from Phase 1B could be dealt with in a way that would still allow construction of the first phase through negotiations for the Lompa property. Otherwise, Masayko fears that if the negotiation process drags on too long, the state will send the $100 million budgeted for the freeway's first phase to other projects.
Lompa attorney Laura Fitzsimmons said she requested the condemnation. The court action allows her to gain access to engineering reports that would help her and the Lompa family appraiser better determine on what grounds the state based its appraisal of the ranch property.
Guinn told transporation staff the reports should be made public anyway.
After hearing the Lompas referred to several times as "uncooperative," Fitzsimmons told transportation board members the Lompa family hasn't delayed the freeway and isn't interested in causing the state problems.
"These people are extraordinary people," she said. "The only reason they're in this process is that for 70 years, their family has owned this land, and for 20 years NDOT has said they're going to take it."
Fitzsimmons asked the board to agree to the condemnation so she can continue negotiations.
Transportation Department Director Tom Stephens said he is recommending Phase 1B be included in the 2003 state construction plan. The state plans to bid this phase in December, but officials admit this negotiation process could stall that date.
Plans for the Carson City freeway have been in the works for more than 20 years.