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County officials close eminent domain hearing, landowner looks to appeal

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The two landowners who will be most directly affected by the proposed eminent domain proceedings at the Watertown International Airport expressed outrage over the measure during a public hearing Thursday night at the airport.

The meeting was a continuation of a hearing that had been adjourned two weeks ago after Jefferson County, which owns and operates the airport, decided to allow more time for comments and submission of documents from the public.

Property owner and Watertown attorney Roscoe A. Eisenhauer, who caused a stir when he all but cross-examined an airport consultant during the last meeting, returned to make his case that the county was overstepping its bounds by initiating eminent domain.

Mr. Eisenhauer and his wife, Cynthia, stand to lose 84 acres of their land if the county acquires it to secure a Federal Aviation Administration-mandated protection zone for a proposed 1,000-foot runway extension.

“I hope the county can understand our concerns as landowners and neighbors to the airport,” Mr. Eisenhauer said as he concluded his comments. “We ask that we be treated as least intrusively as possible as the county pursues its goal to increase traffic at Watertown International Airport.”

Eminent domain allows a government entity to take public property for private use provided it pays just compensation to the owners.

The strongest comments did not come from Mr. Eisenhauer, however.

William E. Lawler, who stands to lose a total of 46.7 acres with his wife, Colleen J., accused the county and county employees of lying to him, trespassing on his land, polluting the environs surrounding the airport and offering him an “absurd” sum for his land.

“I can move, but I’m not going to eat the damage you cost me,” Mr. Lawler told county officials.

Airport ad hoc committee Chairman Barry M. Ormsby, R-Belleville, closed the public hearing, which included a series of on-the-record statements from the county’s airport consultant, Passero Associates, Rochester, after Mr. Lawler’s comments.

Robert M. Siver, who stands to lose approximately 4.5 acres, according to the county, was also at the meeting.

“They’re not taking much of my land,” Mr. Siver said. “Only three acres. I want them to be fair, that’s all.”

The Eisenhauers and Lawlers have both claimed that the county has not kept them apprised of changes to the scope of the county’s plans at the airport, which they claim has grown beyond reason.

Both parties asked for the county to continue the public hearing to allow them time to further review documents entered into evidence by the county.

County Administrator Robert F. Hagemann III said the county has made every effort to negotiate with all the landowners involved but has had little success in bringing either the Eisenhauers or the Lawlers to the table.

Now that the public hearing is concluded, its proceedings will be reviewed by the Jefferson County Board of Legislators Planning and Development Committee and acted upon by the full Board of Legislators.

Landowners will have a chance to appeal the board’s actions before the matter goes before the state Supreme Court for final action.

Mr. Eisenhauer said that his primary goal is to protect his land and that if he does not approve of the board’s determination, he will appeal the matter at the Fourth Judicial Department of the state Supreme Court’s Appellate Division.

“I think we have created a wonderful record for appeal,” Mr. Eisenhauer said, adding that he thought the appellate division would either reject the county’s findings or send the matter back to the public hearing for further comment and exhibits.

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