Thursday, February 24, 2011

The right thing vs. the wrong thing

Columbia Borough and the Safe Harbor Power and Water Company have enjoyed a long friendship. This friendship is due mainly do to the cooperative policing of Safe Harbor owned property by Columbia Borough.

In 2010, Safe Harbor apprcoached Columbia Borough with an offer to gift three parcels of land located along the Susquehanna River. These three parcels are commonly known as the cottage area along the river and are occupied by local cottage owners a nd several boat clubs, one of the boat clubs, the Columbia Canoe Club, is the second oldest canoe club in the country.

Columbia Borough has accepted the offer from Safe Harbor and discussion centered around once accepted, the borough would transfer the property to the cottage owners and the boat clubs. The cottage owners and boat clubs have been there for several generations and the borough felt transferring the property to those who have maintained and sometimes lived on the property is the right thing to do.

The property transfer is to be handled by the Columbia Economic Development Corporation, a local non-profit organization formed to create economic development opportunities within the borough. The transaction is to be similar to the transfer of the property for the Turkey Hill Experience. The proceeds from the transfer of property is to be used by the borough for economic development and quality of life enhancements within the borough.

Shortly after contact with Safe Harbor on the possible gifting, Columbia Borough was approached by the Columbia Water Company, a stockholder owned corporation, not affiliated with Columbia Borough. The Columbia Water Company expressed a need for additional land to expand the plant due to increased filtration requirements. The Columbia Water Company wanted to purchase the parcel of land next to their property. The parcel is currently hoe to several boat clubs and one private residence.

Not wanting to take land from these people, Columbia Borough tried to negotiate with the Columbia Water Company only got the land needed for the expansion. This would minimize the loss of property to those currently leasing the land. Columbia Borough has a solution that would allow the displaced boat clubs to relocate along the Susquehanna River and not infringe on any other leased property.

This option was not acceptable to the Columbia Water Company so the borough presented another idea to the water company, which would not infringe on any of the leased properties, not take river front land of which the dear Lord has only created so much, keep the river front open, allow the water company to locate along the access road and be further from river flooding.

The idea is for the borough to purchase the land from Norfolk Southern running from approximately the Veteran’s Memorial Bridge to Union Street. The land is currently used by Norfolk Southern as an access road. The sale of this land is to be in conjunction with the purchase of the land between the bridges and along the river. This land is to be incorporated into the River Park for public use.

The Columbia Water Company was to present the idea to engineers and give a response to the borough. Instead, the Columbia Water Company has decided to take the one parcel containing te boat clubs by eminent domain. This is not the right thing to do. There are other options that have not been given due thought.

Columbia Borough taxpayers, many of whom have leased propertu and are members of the boat clubs, need to understand the impact of this taking.

Columbia Borough has invested money in an appraisal of the three parcels. This is needed to establish the value of the gifting and subsequent sale. The borough has incurred legal fees associated with the gifting of the three parcels and have asked the Lancaster County Planning Commission to fund a phase one environmental study, needed to ensure the borough that no environmental problems exist on the property they are to own. Columbia Borough was to sell the three parcels a\nd the proceeds were to be used for the economic development and quality of life projects. With the taking by the water company, the value will be considerably less. The Columbia Water Company has incurred legal fees in preparing to take the property by eminent domain, which will be paid by the customers of the Columbia Water Company – Columbia Borough taxpayers. If the taking by eminent domain is challenged, the Columbia Water Company will incur additional legal expenses defending its action. These legal fees will be born by the customers. The Columbia Economic Development Corporation was to receive a fee for transferring the land. The CEDC by law must use any monies earned for economic development projects within the borough. Additionally, the borough’s administrative personnel have spent hours working on this project. Add to the $35,000 Columbia Borough pays the water company for fire hydrants and it is not hard to see that Columbia Borough taxpayers will have a considerable financial loss if this taking happens.

The bottom line is that this may be the easy thing for the Columbia Water Company to do but it is not the right thing to do.