Cache County is embroiled in a long-standing dispute over a road and may exercise eminent domain over it in the near future.
While the county contends that the Davenport Road — which runs through the Four Mile Ranch, south of Avon in the unincorporated area — is a public roadway, the attorney for the property owner claims the issue is about protecting his client’s private property rights.
In December, the Cache County Council approved a resolution stating the body’s conclusion that the Davenport Road is a “public right of way” based on its interpretation of the evidence — including historical documents and maps — gathered by the Cache County Attorney’s Office. At that time, the council expressed its desire to have County Attorney James Swink settle the dispute.
The County Attorney’s Office commissioned an appraisal of the road and impacts to the ranch — owned by Gary Samples and his family — if eminent domain were exercised, and that came back around $56,000. But the council authorized Swink to offer up to $100,000. When the County Attorney’s Office made an offer for $100,000, Samples refused.
Miles Jensen, attorney for the Samples family, said Thursday that the county’s offer wasn’t even close to fair market value.
“It basically will devastate this property as a ranch,” Jensen said, regarding the potential eminent domain action by the county.
But the council also stipulated last December that eminent domain remained an option if attempts to reach a settlement were not successful.
The resolution read, in part, “Whereas, the County Council agrees that if these negotiations fail, that this matter should be set before the Cache County Council, with proper notice given, so that the County Council can have the opportunity to vote to authorize the acquisition of the road through eminent domain to acquire access across the road.”
A public hearing regarding eminent domain of the Davenport Road is scheduled for Tuesday’s regular council meeting.
Though the issue has been a point of contention between the county and the Samples family for several years, the matter really came to a head when Four Mile Ranch sued a couple of individuals for trespassing in the fall of 2010. At that time, the county got involved as an intervener.
The county’s position is that there is a historical road that runs through the ranch — in close proximity to another road that Samples says is private and was constructed by his in-laws decades ago.
“The road’s been moved a bit ... and it crisscrosses back and forth over the historical road,” Linton said.
He added, “We are trying to protect everybody’s rights,” Linton said. “We don’t want to take Samples’ rights away. We don’t want Samples to take their rights away. ... We want everybody to have their property rights protected.”
The county contends that the historical Davenport Road is an RS2477 road, relating to a provision that allows for public roads established across public property to remain public after the federal government relinquished the land to governmental or private entities. The county believes that the historical record supports this view.
“Just because (Samples) doesn’t want people using a road that crosses his property doesn’t mean that he can force people to go way around or to use other roads that are inadequate,” Linton said.
Though the county is waging the RS2477 battle in 1st District Court, eminent domain provides a short-term solution to take the road constructed by Samples’ in-laws, which happens to intersect with the historical road in some places, according to Linton.
For that reason, Linton noted, “We’re actually trying to condemn part of the historical road, too.”
“We’ve had litigation go on with other individuals for seven, eight, nine years,” Linton said. “And we don’t think it’s fair to these people to be locked out of their property for that long.”
But Samples takes issue with that sentiment.
“What they’re saying is that we’re prohibiting landowners from getting to their property, which we’re not,” Samples said.
Jensen added, “Their difficulties would stem from (the county’s) not keeping up Flint Grove Road or in maintaining it or improving it, while our clients have spent the money and the time and the expense to improve a ranch road across their property.”
According to Jensen, there is plenty of historical documentation — including maps, case law and congressional acts — to bolster their side. He says the road in question is rightfully a private one.
“The county is taking by force private property for what is a very questionable public purpose,” Jensen said.
If the county does condemn the road by eminent domain, Jensen said that decision would be met with further legal challenges.