In a surprise addition to their agenda, the Centre County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution Tuesday to condemn a section of property containing a county-owned 911 communications tower.
The tower is located in Boggs Township along Snow Shoe Mountain Forest Road near state Route 144.
The county had been in negotiations with the landowner, Snow Shoe Summit Lodge Corp., Vice Chairman Chris Exarchos said. According to Exarchos, the “demands from the landowners have become very unreasonable.”
According to the commissioners, the demands include high rent costs compared to costs paid to other land owners for similar properties throughout the county as well as a desire to lease the use of the tower “to whomever they see fit.”
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No commercial entities use the tower, Chairman Steve Dershem said. It functions solely for public safety.
The resolution states, according to Exarchos, that the 911 tower and related structures and property totaling approximately two acres will be taken by eminent domain. The parcel of land includes a 50-foot easement along the road which connects it to Route 144.
The county has gone through other renegotiations with landowners of other tower sites throughout the county, Commissioner Michael Pipe said. Since contracts were first negotiated 20 years ago, a rise in fees is understandable, he said. However, he added, the county is not a for-profit agency, and for life-saving issues, the tower can’t be taken down.
The county added the resolution in response to receiving a notice of intention of eviction from the property owners a few days ago, county solicitor Louis Glantz said, but the county has the ability to take the property before an eviction can happen. Once the ordinance is passed and a cash offer is made to the owner, the county takes ownership of the property.
The county can become the owner as quickly as 30 days, Glantz said.
The tower can’t simply be evicted, Exarchos said: “We can’t just go up there and put the tower on wheels and move it some place else.”
There is no option to disengage the tower for any reason, Dershem said. Residents in the region rely on the tower, he said, and the traffic on nearby Interstate 80 requires access to emergency services.
“We do this with a heavy heart, frankly,” he said.
The ordinance of eminent domain will be advertised per the resolution, Exarchos said. A surveyor is expected to be hired in the next few days to examine the easement.
“That’s their prerogative to condemn land, we’ll deal with that when the time comes,” said attorney Jeffrey Stover, who represents the corporation. “But if they’re going to do that, they have to pay the fair price for it, so that will be the issue.”