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Posted: February 3, 2009 8:02 p.m.

Punishing a good man

Dear editor: I am writing this letter to introduce you to a man I met several years ago while doing research on the Bear Creek reservoir in Newton County. His name is Emmett Denby. Emmett has the misfortune of owning a home that sits in the footprint of the dam site of this proposed reservoir. He has lived under the threat of condemnation for the last 12 years.

Two weeks before Christmas last year, Newton County Commission, led by then Chairman Aaron Varner ,voted to hire an outside law firm specializing in eminent domain and to proceed with condemnation proceedings against the Denbys. I believe Mr. Varner should win the 2008 Ebenezer Scrooge award for the timing of the action.

Newton County is using a little used section of the eminent domain law that is primarily used to obtain property that is delaying an ongoing highway project. It proceeds like this: 1. You are served by the sheriff notifying you of a court date. 2. A short time later a county judge rules that the county has the need to take your property. 3. The title to your property is immediately transferred to the county and you are given 15 days to move. 4. On the 16th day your house is bulldozed. 5. The fair market value of you property is determined by a jury some months later.... You are literally kicked out of your home with no money to relocate.

This law is being misused in this case. There is no immediate need to obtain this property. By their own schedule dam construction is not to begin until the year 2018, and these projects never proceed on schedule. They always take longer and cost more than projected. Newton County is in the process of doubling the size of their water treatment plant and won't need the water from Bear Creek until 2040.

Newly elected Commission Chairman Kathryn Morgan took office on Jan. 1. Mr. Denby believed that if he could just sit down and talk with her that the situation could be resolved without going to court. He called her office and requested a meeting, and she told him she could not meet with him because he had an attorney. He asked her if he fired his attorney would she meet with him and she told him she would. After firing his attorney she then refused to meet with him telling him he would probably be served by the sheriff on Monday.

Mr. Denby has no interest in holding up this project. All he wants is to remain in his home until dam construction is ready to begin. He is willing to sign a contract to willingly sell Newton County his property for fair market value at that time.

Mr. Denby's wife is in a life or death battle with cancer, and he would like for her to remain in familiar surroundings. He has two teenage children who would like to remain in their present schools. Mr. Denby is a veteran, serving the county in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War. He is a great American and does not deserve this. This is the worst case of eminent domain abuse I have ever heard of, and it should not be allowed to happen. As American citizens we should all express our outrage to the Newton County Commission.


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