Commissioner submits damages bill to Salisbury
By Mark Wineka
Rowan County Commissioner Jim Sides has submitted a $2,222.22 claim for damages to the city of Salisbury.
City Manager David Treme says the city won’t pay.
Both men say they are in the right, constitutionally.
Sides wrote a letter to Treme Jan. 23 in which he included himself among the property owners along an area being surveyed for the Interstate 85 sewer extension project south of Salisbury.
Sides said a surveying crew sanctioned by the city entered onto his property without permission and cut what the city described as “underbrush.”
But Sides seeks compensation for six trees the crew cut down.
Sides contended that the surveying crew went onto his land at the city’s direction “with conscious and reckless disregard for others and outside their jurisdictional boundaries.”
“Such actions by rogue government officials offend the Fifth Amendment clause against ‘takings,’ and the indignity of the violation of my constitutional rights exceeds what ‘just’ monetary compensation can repair,” Sides wrote in his letter.
Sides offered to settle his claim for damages, figuring his losses at $370.37 per 3-inch caliper tree.
He added that if he did not receive compensation “forthrightly,” he would be hiring an attorney and seeking punitive damages to punish Salisbury for its wrongful acts and deter other jurisdictions from doing it.
Sides included attachments to his letter related to the value of trees; photos supporting his claim that six trees were cut; and an April 17, 2006, letter from Salisbury-Rowan Utilities indicating in bold print that “no alteration, change or damage to your property will occur as part of the survey work.”
He also included a N.C. statute outlining a property owner’s right to be compensated for damages and an excerpt from the City Charter, whose power does not extend beyond the city limits, according to Sides.
Sides also attached what he called “a very interesting picture” taken just as one enters the city on U.S. 29 South.
The sign recognizes Salisbury as a “Tree City USA” for 20 years.
Sides added: “The city’s actions taken on my property were inconsistent with that sign’s message, which is an affront to the city’s well-intentioned rhetoric.”
At Salisbury City Council’s meeting Tuesday, Treme read aloud his two-page letter back to Sides.
“As the county’s partner, the city of Salisbury is fully committed to fair treatment of landowners and the completion of a project that will promote jobs for Rowan County,’ Treme said.
“However, our commitment does not mean that we will make payments to individuals who are not legally entitled to them.
“Such payments would ultimately come out of the pockets of the taxpayers and utility customers in Salisbury, in Rowan County and in neighboring communities served by Salisbury’s SRU water and sewer system.”
Treme said a survey crew visited Sides’ property June 10, 2006.
“The most ‘cutting’ that the survey crew could have done was the cutting of underbrush,” Treme said. “They had no equipment for tree-cutting.”
Treme told Sides the General Assembly has enacted laws “that squarely state that survey work like the survey work performed on your property is not a trespass; and those laws are constitutional.”
“Given the importance of the I-85 sewer project, statements to the contrary, in my opinion, are unfounded,” Treme added.
Treme said it’s important to Salisbury that landowners be given advance notice of survey work on their properties, even if state statutes do not require it.
“Some situations may cause us to rethink and improve our procedures for notification,” he added.
But Treme reminded Sides he was present at the meetings that led to the city-county agreement on the I-85 sewer project. That agreement made at least four references to the surveyors and included a map that showed the project was located along Town Creek where Sides’ property is, Treme said.
He noted for Sides that SRU sent him a letter April 17, 2006, “to let you know well in advance that survey work for the I-85 sewer project would occur on your property.”
Treme also told Sides that the agreement signed by county commissioners March 20, 2006, assigned to SRU “responsibility for all of the necessary steps and tasks to construct and complete the city-county I-85 sewer project, including the hiring and deployment of surveyors.
“In that agreement, the city and county promised to fully cooperate in all phases and aspects of this project,” Treme said.
Treme left open a possibility that the city would consider paying Sides later for damages.
He said the area where surveyors performed their work on Sides’ property is within an area where the city and county will have to pay him for an easement.
The city and county will pay him fair market value for the easement, “hopefully as a matter of negotiation,” Treme said, and Sides’ demand for $2,222.22 will be considered at that time.
“If negotiations are unsuccessful,” Treme said, “the payment will be made in the context of a condemnation action in the Rowan County Superior Court.”
Treme emphasized to council, which did not comment on his letter to Sides, that the city has not entered onto anyone’s property illegally in conducting the survey work.