Turnpike claims eminent domain in taking
By Eric Weslander
There's a noisy beast in Richard Wolfe's back yard, and it's
Wolfe is one of dozens of Douglas County residents losing
land to the Kansas Turnpike, which is slated to expand by
two lanes in coming years between Lecompton and Topeka. Of
Wolfe's 80-acre property, the expansion is taking about 2
acres a strip of land roughly 50 feet wide along the
south side of the highway.
"They're taking more land from me, they're moving closer
to my house, and it really is going to devalue my property
quite a bit," said Wolfe, who owns a landscape and irrigation
business. He calls the state's offer of $2,500 an acre "thievery."
Turnpike officials say they're offering what they think is
"You never want to take somebody's property, and we
didn't take any more property than we absolutely had to,"
said Tom Wurdeman, chief engineer for the Kansas Turnpike
But the court is coming down on the side of the state. And
that's making landowners like Wolfe grumpy.
"They just ramrodded their way through this," Wolfe
The expansion, estimated in 2002 to cost more than $108 million,
is needed to allow traffic to keep flowing smoothly in coming
years, Wurdeman said. Major work on the project is scheduled
to begin in the fall.
The project affected 59 tracts of land, 48 of them in Douglas
County and the rest in Shawnee County, Wurdeman said. The
KTA reached a settlement out of court with owners of all but
14 tracts, he said.
Most landowners along the route already have sold to the
KTA, but not Wolfe. He and 13 others thought the government's
offers for their land were too low, which led the KTA to file
for eminent-domain proceedings last month in district court.
"We feel like we tried to negotiate these things and
give the people what the value is and what the damages are,"
Wurdeman said. "If we disagree, we let a court determine
Douglas County District Judge Michael Malone granted the
petition Feb. 26. That cleared the way for the properties
to be condemned and for Wolfe and codefendants to be forced
to sell at a price determined by court-appointed appraisers.
Wolfe said the $2,500-per-acre price offered by the KTA failed
to account for lost money from his roadside billboard and
the decline in value in the rest of the property, which he
plans to sell for residential lots.
Notices that the land was up for grabs began arriving about
six months ago, landowners said.
Douglas County resident John Lusk stands to lose about 15
percent of his 4-acre plot north of the highway. He said he
was puzzled that the amount of land the KTA wanted grew between
the first and second offer.
He wasn't satisfied with either offer because he said neither
took into account the damage to his remaining property.
"They're going to look out for their own best interest
and none of ours, I would think," he said.