Right of way acquisition is one of the most difficult things ACHD staff must do. There are times when a project’s boundaries infringe on the private property of a citizen, and it is then that the Right of Way Team at ACHD begins negotiations with the property owner. Sometimes just a small portion of property is needed, but other times the portion that is required is too impactful, and ACHD must acquire the entire parcel.
The Constitution of the United States requires that a property owner receive due process and just compensation. To make sure that people are treated fairly and consistently by government entities, Congress has also mandated rules for how property is acquired on federal projects. In short, this is called the Uniform Act. As a matter of practice, ACHD follows those rules on both federal and local projects that may require Eminent Domain.
A requirement of the Uniform Act is that ACHD value the property. Generally speaking, if an acquisition is under $10,000, ACHD does the valuation in-house in accordance with Idaho Law and has it reviewed by a certified general appraiser. In acquisitions over $10,000 or that are viewed as complex, ACHD hires a third party to appraise and review the market value of the property. An offer of just
compensation is then mailed or hand delivered to the property owner. If the property owner accepts the offer, papers are signed and the acquisition process is complete. ACHD is required to negotiate with property owners in “good faith” for a period of time.
As project schedules progress, the window for right of way negotiations closes. ACHD has the legal authority to acquire property for the public good for the purpose of infrastructure improvements. If ACHD and the property owner are unable to come to an agreement about the value of the property, the Right of Way Team will bring the case before the ACHD Commission to ask that the Commission approve a condemnation. Even after the Commission approves a condemnation, negotiations with the property owner continue.
In a very few cases, these continued negotiations fail, and the issue is forced to go before a judge. ACHD is required to pay a property owner fair market value for the property they are acquiring. At no point does ACHD ever offer a property owner an amount that is below fair market value.
However, ACHD is required to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars and will defend themselves against cases in which the property owner is asking for much more than fair market value. ACHD does not believe the taxpayers should have to pay for the betterment of the individuals involved in those cases.
ACHD handles approximately 350 right of way acquisitions each year. Of those, only 1-3 percent ever must be condemned, and of those, less than 1 percent ever go to trial.
As a requirement of the Uniform Act and to help lessen the burden, ACHD also offers free relocation services through a third party to those who are impacted by a right of way acquisition in which the entire property must be acquired. These services help people get re-established, and all on ACHD’s dime. They include but are not limited to:
• Helping find a comparable business location, home or rental home
• Paying for moving expenses
• Paying for new signage (if applicable)
• Paying for the differential rent for a certain length of time
The ACHD Right of Way staff takes great pride in following the law and instituting best practices for right of way. Staff at all levels work to find out-of-the-box solutions to lessen the impact on property owners in the negotiation process.