Metro-East News

July 26, 2014

St. Clair County tangles with landowners over widening Frank Scott Parkway

St. Clair County is continuing its two-year fight to use eminent domain to take land needed to improve a busy intersection at Frank Scott Parkway East and Old Collinsville Road in Swansea.

The fight pits the county against homeowners Ken and Sheila Cope who own a two-story, mason home on the disputed property southwest of the intersection.

The county hopes to ease congestion by adding lanes at the intersection. To do so, county officials need to purchase about 0.04 acres and acquire a three-year easement on an additional 0.05 acres of the property's total 3.8 acres.

The Copes believe the county should reimburse them for an anticipated loss of value to their home in addition to purchasing ground required to add lanes to the intersection, according to court documents. County assessors value the Copes' property at $440,200, according to tax records.

Ken Cope said the attempted land grab has been an "extremely difficult situation for me. I'm burnt up over it."

"There's a whole lot more to it than that (case) but I hate to say anything to anybody about it because of the litigation involved," Cope said.

The Copes' attorney, Harry Sterling, could not be reached for comment.

St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern said that since the complaint is still active, county officials probably should refrain from comments.

"That being said, I believe that this department negotiated in good faith with the property owner and felt at one point we had reached an agreement only to find that when we sent documents for signatures additional demands were put in place," Kern said. "After a review of those demands we felt that these demands put the settlement out of range of what we felt was fair for the taxpayers of St. Clair County."

Nearby development has increased traffic at the intersection to 16,200 vehicles each day, according to a survey conducted by the Illinois Department of Transportation in 2013.

The proposal is part of county plans to also improve intersections along Frank Scott Parkway East at Hartman Lane and North Green Mount Road. The Copes' property is the final parcel for improvements at the three intersections, Kern said, with all other required parcels successfully negotiated.

Kern said construction of additional lanes at three intersections along Frank Scott Parkway West in July 2010 significantly reduced delays. Those intersections were at Illinois 161, Sullivan Drive and Illinois 159.

This is only the second time the county has used eminent domain powers in the past decade. The other case involved a seven-year fight with the Caseyville Rifle and Pistol Club in Mascoutah. The case was settled in 2012, but not before county's cost for legal and consultant fees neared $400,000.

As of May, court records show the Copes' estimated attorneys fees of about $21,400. The cost of the county's legal representation in the case is unknown.

Members of the St. Clair County Board first authorized the use of eminent domain powers to take the property in March 2010. In August 2012, the county filed a suit asking a St. Clair County Circuit Judge to approve the use of eminent domain and determine how much the county should pay the Copes for the land.

The suit was set to go to trial in April, but then county attorneys dropped the case after the Copes' attorney pointed out the county failed to disclose the length the of time needed for the easement.

In March, the County Board approved a resolution authorizing the use of eminent domain seeking to purchase the Copes' property and receive a three-year temporary easement. County attorneys refiled the complaint in St. Clair County Circuit Court in June.

A separate proposal to extend Frank Scott Parkway to Illinois 158 has not involved the use of eminent domain, though, an attempt to use a "quick take" resolution failed in 2010.

The measure would have allowed the county to seize about 24 acres from six property owners, but never passed the Illinois Legislature. Negotiations remain underway with the land owners.

The proposal would tie two lanes of traffic from Cross Street with Maple Street in Shiloh, then connect at Wherry Road at Illinois 158.

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