West Warren-Viola Utility District won the right to take a family’s land Wednesday when the Tennessee Court of Appeals overturned an earlier court decision that let the family keep its property.
The ruling will give West Warren-Viola Utility District 5.75 acres owned by the Jarrell family in Coffee County atop Flat Mountain.
“West Warren-Viola Utility District may have won the right to take our land, but they will never be able to take our minds, our pride, honesty, integrity, or love of the land that has infused and cradled six generations of the Jarrell family,” said Jackie Jarrell Koss. “It is my opinion West Warren-Viola Utility District is a reflective microcosm of major problems that now exist in this country. It is government officials and self-interest individuals unjustly invoking use of eminent domain when they stand to profit.”
Utility district attorney Ben Newman said the ruling is proper and in accordance with state law. He said if the appeals court had ruled otherwise, it would have set a precedent that would have been felt throughout the state.
“The effects would have been far reaching,” said Newman. “It would have meant each public utility, water, electric, gas, telephone, would basically be an island upon itself. You couldn’t put a power line on someone’s land if it was outside your area. You’d be stuck with only what you could produce in your area. Power companies would have to develop their own power source or reach an agreement with property owners.”
Newman said the elevated location of the Jarrell property allows West Warren-Viola to avoid building a stilted tank, which is the type of water tank that’s next to the Farmers Market. He said stilted tanks are expensive to build and maintain. The utility will now be able to build a much larger ground tank, which will be much less expensive.
“The board is pleased to be able to save their customers millions of dollars in getting this location for a ground-level tank,” said Newman. “If this hill didn’t exist, a stilted tank would have been required.”
The site chosen is a 5.75-acre portion of the Jarrell family property, a six-generation family farm. Ac-cording to West Warren plans, the 200-acre farm will be divided by an access road with an eight-foot cyclone fence and a 30-foot-tall water tank.
When the Jarrell family refused to sell the property, West Warren sought to acquire the property through eminent domain. The initial case was heard May 16, 2013.
The initial attempt to get the property failed but started what was a back-and-forth legal battle. The legal struggle may not be over.
“The Jarrell family has not had an opportunity to meet with our attorney, but we are of course disap-pointed with the appellate court ruling,” said Koss. “I cannot speak for my family regarding the latest turn of events.”
She went on to say, “There were a number of options available to WWVUD other than invoking the use of eminent domain and constructing a 2-million gallon tank on Coffee County property already being served by Hillsville Utility.”
When West Warren-Viola began the process, the project was estimated to cost $3.7 million.
It is unknown at this time how much the legal battle has cost. In December 2014, documents provided by the family placed the cost for both sides at $200,000.
The prolonged legal battle could cost the Jarrell family more than they are awarded for the property, meaning they have to pay for losing 5.75 acres of land.