A building at the Watertown International Airport briefly took on the appearance of a courtroom Thursday night.
A stenographer took notes and a lawyer cross-examined experts while documents were entered into evidence.
But it wasnt a trial. It was a public hearing about eminent domain proceedings that Jefferson County has initiated on land adjacent to the airport in the town of Hounsfield.
Eminent domain allows the government to take private property for public use provided that it pays just compensation to the owners of the property.
Watertown attorney Roscoe A. Eisenhauer Jr., who stands to lose 84 acres of his land, objected to what he characterized as ever-changing demands from the county to purchase or secure easements on his property. He questioned Shawn R. Bray, airport engineering manager for Passero Associates, Rochester, and submitted letters and blueprints in case the matter goes to state Supreme Court.
The countys proposals went from 30 to 60 to more than 80 acres in a span of five years, according to Mr. Eisenhauer.
What they do and how much they take is going to directly impact my house and my way of life, Mr. Eisenhauer said after the hearing.
Jefferson County officials were at somewhat of a loss to respond.
Weve been in discussion with him with many different scenarios, including whats being discussed now, said attorney Joseph W. Russell, who is acting as special counsel to Jefferson County.
The county, which owns and operates the airport, is planning to extend a runway by 1,000 feet and is attempting to gain control of parcels that lie to the east and west of the runway to provide the average 2,500 feet of safety clearance required by the Federal Aviation Administration.
The parcels in question are, to the east of the runway, 84.79 acres owned by Mr. Eisenhauer and 2.83 acres owned by Robert M. Siver Sr. and John R. Siver and, to the west of the runway, 25.33 acres owned by William E. Lawler and Colleen J. Lawler, 15.63 and 5.74 acres owned by Colleen J. Lawler and 7.65 acres owned by Hydro Development Group.
Legislator Barry M. Ormsby, R-Belleville, is the chairman of Jefferson County Board of Legislators Airport ad-hoc committee.
After the meeting, he said the county has made several attempts to engage an unresponsive Mr. Eisenhauer in negotiations to purchase his property.
Weve been after him since February 2012 for a counterproposal so we wouldnt have to pursue eminent domain, Mr. Ormsby said.
But Mr. Eisenhauer said that he did not hear about the plan to purchase 84 acres of his property until he was approached in September by Mr. Russell.
Mr. Eisenhauer said he had no objection to selling the county 3.3 acres or granting the county an easement on the 30 acres it had sought to acquire earlier.
I knew the airport needed more land. I wasnt really resisting that, Mr. Eisenhauer said.
But, again, Mr. Ormsby said that efforts to negotiate with Mr. Eisenhauer were hampered by his unwillingness to come to the table.
Its really tough to counter-offer your own proposal. Somebody has to communicate in the middle, Mr. Ormsby said.
Patrick L. Seely, an attorney with Hacker Murphy LLP, an Albany-based law firm, attended the hearing to represent Mr. and Mrs. Lawler. Mr. Seely also said the amount of land to be purchased had grown in size since negotiations began and raised concerns about environmental considerations that were resolved when the project was of a smaller scope.
Donald C. Alexander, CEO of the Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency, delivered the final comments of the evening by speaking in favor of the proposed expansion and its projected economic benefit to the region.
Mr. Ormsby said that American Eagle, the American Airlines subsidiary that provides passenger service at the airport, would be moving from a 44-passenger jet to a 50-passenger jet sometime next year. The larger jets require a longer runway, Mr. Ormsby said.
The public hearing was adjourned, not closed. The county will continue to accept additional comments and submissions until the hearing is reconvened. But the county wants to move forward with the runway expansion as soon as possible.
Were going to follow right up on these details, Mr. Ormsby said. Were not going to sit on this for weeks. Lets call another meeting and get this thing wrapped up. Thats my feeling on this.