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PennDOT abuse of eminent domain to build Route 443 retention ponds

By Joe Bennett

Bennett Family Properties

The hardworking folks who do snowplowing at all hours of the day and maintain the commonwealth’s roads certainly take a bum rap for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s poor upper management.

I can only imagine how my property next to Aldi’s was condemned for the Route 443 middle turning lane project. A new, fresh-out-of-school engineer (we all had to start somewhere) is sitting in his office at PennDOT’s district office down in Allentown and looks on Google Earth to see an empty parcel to the right of Aldi’s. Not understanding real estate valuation, he thinks “boy, that would make a nice spot for a retention pond, and let’s do the same thing across from McDonald’s.”

Thus two valuable pieces of land are off the tax rolls FOREVER, hurting the kids of the Lehighton Area School District and causing the tax base to divide among those of us remaining, including elderly trying to hold onto their homes. At that point the engineer also misses the entire purpose of a middle turning lane. The idea is to get traffic turning left into that valuable frontage without blocking folks trying to go straight on Route 443. The need for that middle turning lane goes away if there is a pond but no business to turn into!

This is what happened to our plans for a Wendy’s (they of course found another spot next to AT&T Cellular) and KFC when the management at PennDOT would not agree to placing their retention pond behind my valuable frontage on Route 443.

When our engineer tried to explain the erroneous logic of placing a water retention pond on the front of the property, the answer was “we’re too far along to make any changes.” I cannot understand how they are “so far along” when they took years to finally pay for my property and just last month started construction.

Part of this excruciatingly painful experience is when an “acquisition specialist” contacted me and offered to give me exactly what I paid for the property 2.5 years prior … such a deal! When they finally paid me on June 1 of last year, I received only my original purchase price and not a penny for the bank interest I had paid, title insurance, legal costs for closing, appraisals or prior engineering fees.

My only hope is that the courts will see PennDOT’s arrogance and abuse of eminent domain. They had multiple opportunities to do the right thing, but instead chose to do nothing. If the court rules to reverse the condemnation they will have to waste more taxpayer dollars to repair the damage to my land prior to giving it back. In a worst-case scenario the courts orders a Board of View which looks at the appraisal and understands the time value of my development plans which never could come to fruition. Either way everyone in Carbon County loses!

One only has to look at what has just occurred at arguably the most valuable property with a traffic signal along the 443 business corridor (to the left of Lowe’s) in order to understand the injustice of PennDOT ruining this corner parcel. Mahoning Township residents should request their supervisors fight for the lost taxes in their community due to poorly conceived PennDOT engineering. The whole reason for the state bearing the cost of widening a road is to improve access and not decrease the property values. This project has the net effect of decreasing the total commercial property values and the taxes being paid to the municipality, county and school district.

We now see PennDOT proposing tolls on bridges along Route 80 since they are woefully underfunded due to these types of engineering blunders which inevitably cost them a lot of money in litigation. Until fellow citizens, legislators and the courts seek justification for PennDOT’s decisions, we ALL suffer.

Joe Bennett is a managing partner of Bennett Family Properties in Lehighton.