The Cache County Council chamber was filled beyond overflowing on Tuesday as the council prepared to vote on whether to approve a resolution (Resolution 2016-30) to authorize eminent domain proceedings on Davenport Road near Avon. Several attendees holding signs that read “Vote No on Eminent Domain” were asked to put the signs away.
The debate concerning Davenport Road has been ongoing for more than six years, involving litigation related to whether or not Davenport Road, located within the privately-owned Four Mile Ranch, is a public road and whether restricting access to it infringes on the ability of surrounding landowners to access private land. As a preface to the decision-making discussion, remarks included a procedural explanation of eminent domain, analysis of the environmental impact of improvements to the road, and a recommendation to grant the owners of Four Mile Ranch a second appraisal to determine fair market value of the five-mile stretch of road. Conversation throughout the meeting likewise involved the county’s longer-term intentions for the road, including the possibilities of development and recreational use.
While the meeting did not include a public hearing, councilmembers did hear from Lee Edwards of the Cache County Attorney’s Office in support of the resolution and Seth Tait, an attorney with Olson & Hoggan, P.C., representing the opposition. Tait’s presentation focused on three points the owners of Four Mile Ranch hoped to convey according to their perspective:
<ul><li>Condemnation of Davenport Road is based on a false premise that Cache County is simply taking back a road that was historically considered public;</li><li>There is no legitimate public purpose for condemning the road; and,</li><li>Condemnation of the road is not a prudent use of public funds.</li></ul>
Scott Samples, co-owner of Four Mile Ranch, was also given an opportunity to speak.
“If this passes,” said Samples, “it will destroy 50 years of heritage in ranching.”
While representatives of Four Mile Ranch maintain that Davenport Road has been considered a private road since 1862, Edwards presented an 1877 United States Surveyor Map indicating otherwise. Edwards likewise referred to a 1929 Utah Supreme Court Case decision affirming Davenport Road’s public use. Prior to voting on the resolution, several members of the council expressed their reticence to exercising eminent domain, while at the same time indicating that their votes would be driven by a belief that the road was indeed public.
“I went into this discussion with an open mind ready to look at both sides of the issue,” said council chair Greg Merrill. “Evidence has shown that this is a public road. Public roads remain public roads unless a legislative body determines otherwise. In this instance they have not.”
Ultimately casting the only dissenting vote to the resolution, councilmember Jon White said, “You know how I feel about this road. You don’t need Davenport.”
Amid applause from the audience, White went on to assert that his grandfather had driven the first wagon down Davenport Road and, as a landowner himself, he did not agree with the condemnation of the road.
“Once we’re done,” he conceded, “that’s the way it is.”
With a final vote of 6-1, the Cache County Council ended the discussion with approval of the resolution to exercise eminent domain on Davenport Road.
Tim Rawlings, a Preston resident, has been following the Davenport Road controversy for five years.
“The law was upheld tonight, truth and justice prevailed, and I think the county did the right thing,” he said.
Chris Mortensen, who lives in Avon, disagrees.
“I think there was a lot of evidence presented that shows they should have made a different decision,” he said. “I don’t think either side proved their point 100%, but my opinion is that most of the councilmembers had their minds made up before the presentation tonight.”
Summarizing its position, the Cache County Council issued a news release late Tuesday.
“The goal of the Cache County Council has been to hear both sides and take necessary action that would be in the best interest of the citizens of Cache County,” the statement said. “The resolution to approve the filing of an eminent domain action will minimize litigation costs, provide access while reducing environmental impact, and preserve rights-of-way for citizens to access private and public lands. Public access to this road is for the long term benefit of Cache County.”