9/12/2007

Farmer fights eminent domain: Marysville CA Appeal-Democrat, 8/12/07

By Andrea Koskey

Longtime farmer Jeanette Rice is fighting the government’s attempt to take her land for levee improvements.

Rice lives on 19 acres of farmland on Plumas Avenue off Feather River Boulevard in south Yuba County, less than a half a mile from the Feather River levee.

“There’s no other land like it,” the 56-year-old farmer said. “If they remove the trees, the soil will go with it.”

Rice said it is prime agricultural land for her family’s peach, nectarine and citrus trees, but the Three Rivers Levee Improvement Authority approved plans for a setback levee that would cut across the westernmost plot – taking nearly six acres of her land.

The proposed setback levee is a part of the final phase of the county’s levee repairs.

On Tuesday, TRLIA approved a declaration of necessity to go forward with repairs. That means that acquiring the Rice property is a matter of public good and the land will be taken through eminent domain for what is determined to be the fair market value.

“I want to encourage staff to continue negotiations and find a resolution,” TRLIA Director Mary Jane Griego said just before a vote to take the land. “But I want to firmly stand by the timeline of completing this work. It’s critical for those who’ve had a levee break.”

TRLIA directors approved the intent to take the land by Nov. 10 through eminent domain if the Rices refuse to sell.

Most of the surrounding farmers, Rice said, took the money offered by TRLIA, before the use of eminent domain.

Rice said the $18,000-per-acre offered is well below the value of the land, but money doesn’t matter.

“We’re not for sale,” Rice said. “Farming is in my blood. My father and grandfather taught me everything.”

According to staff, the land is the best possible piece for the setback levee and is consistent with the project. Therefore, an offer was made to landowners based on the assessed value, but the landowners declined to sell.

“The key is to try to maintain a balance between public good and personal injury,” TRLIA Executive Director Paul Brunner told directors.

“We tried our best to move it off the Rice property, but it’s crucial to maintain as much of the levee on the best soil. We believe this is the best alignment.”

Rice, however, said negotiations never took place.

“They offered, we refused and that was it,” she said. “They decided on the land in February. But I thought, the way it worked was they offer, we refuse and then we try something else.”

Despite the controversy, the Rices say they are not against levee improvements or repairs – they’ve been flooded three times in the last 50 years. They are just against their land being taken.

“It will wipe us out,” Rice said. “We won’t be able to farm. (The land they want) is the richest soil.”

Rice said if the levee is moved 300 yards to the west of the existing proposal, her farm will be spared.

Changing plans now, however, would require engineering work and a change in schedule.

“It’s possible,” Brunner said. “But it would impact funding from Proposition 1E (state funding for flood prevention and disaster relief). We need to acquire this land in order to maintain schedule and hopefully put the project for bid.”

The intent to acquire the land was unanimously approved by the board of directors.

Rice said she’s indicated to her attorney that she plans to file a lawsuit preventing the government from taking her land. A lawsuit has not yet been filed.

As for her thoughts on the future, Rice said she doesn’t think about the possibility of losing her land.

“I don’t want to think about that,” she said. “I have no intention of moving. I’m going to fight, regardless of where that road takes us.”


Marysville CA Appeal-Democrat: http://www.appeal-democrat.com