Water district passes resolutions for potential eminent domain

The South Coast Water District board recently adopted five resolutions of necessity that will allow it to move forward with eminent domain — if necessary — for its rehabilitated tunnel project in South Laguna.

A total of 180 homeowners have been contacted regarding the district acquiring an additional 5-foot easement below their properties to conduct the tunnel repairs.

Some homeowners are being asked to give up more space due to their homes' property size. So far, 140 property owners have negotiated and accepted financial offers for their easements.

The most recent resolutions — approved June 28 — affect five South Laguna and Three Arch Bay properties and are part of 12 homes that have seen resolutions of necessity passed.

In April, the district approved resolutions of necessity for the seven other properties, since then two have settled with the district. The district still hopes to come to an agreement with the remaining 10 homeowners and avoid eminent domain.

"The next step will be the district's filing Eminent Domain Complaints in O.C. Superior Court for each property owner — given that we remain unable to reach agreements with property owners on purchasing easements," spokeswoman Linda Homscheid said in an email.

She said the district plans to file the complaints in two to three months, then the court would handle them and it could take up to a year.

The board was almost unanimous with its vote on all the June 28 resolutions, with the exception of board director Robert Moore.

Moore told the board that he was hesitant to adopt a resolution before property owners' concerns were addressed and resolved.

President Wayne Rayfield emphasized that the adoption of a resolution would not preclude any attempts to negotiate with property owners.

The district has been in contact with the owners for the past year and a half — calling, emailing and sending letters multiple times — district lawyer Betty Burnett said at the meeting. The five property owners were invited to appear at the meeting; however, none were present.

The driving force behind the need to stabilize and enlarge the tunnel is that it is steadily and significantly deteriorating, Homscheid said.

"Loose rocks and dirt are falling into the tunnel, timber supports are rotting and falling down inside, and these conditions put our maintenance workers at risk of injury or death and the pipeline itself at risk of breaking or cracking," she said.

Staff said the five-year, $50 million project will prevent a tunnel collapse and pipeline failure in the future.

Homscheid wanted to point out that the easement is underground, which means workers would not be walking on a person's property.

According to Homscheid, the tunnel is a unique project.

"It's the only tunnel housing a sewer line on the coast that we are aware of," she said.

Design engineering firm Hatch Mott Macdonald is consulting on the project. The firm is widely known for its work on the Chunnel Tunnel underneath the English Channel.


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