MANSFIELD -- The city of Mansfield has scored a victory in its efforts to stop Georgia Transmission Corporation's plan to condemn city property.
The Supreme Court of Georgia has transferred the case to the Georgia Court of Appeals, following an emergency filing by the city of Mansfield. Chief Superior Court Judge John Ott previously ruled to allow GTC to complete the condemnation process and take possession of the property before the Court of Appeals was able to review the case, according to Don Evans, attorney for the city of Mansfield.
The city filed an Emergency Motion for Supersedeas with the Georgia Supreme Court to halt a valuation hearing on Monday, saying "irreparable harm will result if the proceeding continues." On Oct. 18, the Supreme Court found that it was not the proper venue for filing the motion, but transferred the matter to the Georgia Court of Appeals.
Evans said the question for the court to examine is whether GTC has a right to seize public property.
"Never before has a private company with the power of eminent domain attempted to seize municipal property," he said.
GTC Spokeswoman Jeannine Haynes issued this statement: "Our job is to keep the lights on. We are exploring legal options and remain focused on completing the new line in December to ensure reliable power in this area during the peak usage winter months."
GTC filed for condemnation of about 2.6 acres of property owned by the city and intended for use as a public park on June 11. The city of Mansfield filed a motion to dismiss on July 2, stating that the property is currently dedicated for public use as a municipal park and power of eminent domain does not extend to public property.
GTC countered in its response that the property was owned by Beaver Manufacturing Inc., a private company, which deeded the roughly 2.6 acres to the city to thwart the condemnation. The warranty deed is dated June 28.
The property is an L-shaped parcel surrounded by Carmel Church Road, 2nd Street, Poplar Street and Sixth Avenue.
GTC says there were problems with the transfer rendering it invalid, and Beaver was still the owner of the property when the condemnation was filed. GTC also says that its easement and the public park can co-exist, and the property can be legally condemned.
Evans said if GTC can't run the lines through the city property, it could thwart the entire project, since the property lies in the middle of the transmission route.
The property the city claims it owns is the only other parcel needed by GTC for its project, which involves erecting large concrete poles and running power lines through the back streets of the town to a substation on Mill Pond Road.
"This transmission line will have a negative effect on the quality of life and property value for our citizens," said Mansfield Mayor Estona Middlebrooks. "The city government is committed to trying to prevent further damage to our city. We are grateful that the Court of Appeals has stepped in and stopped the process and is going to hear our case."
A citizens' group, MAPLE -- Mansfield Against Power Line Encroachment -- launched a grassroots campaign to prevent GTC from taking the route through town.
"We did not pick this battle, but neither will we run from it. The mayor and the City Council have done a great job in trying to protect our city," said Todd Hilton, a leader in the opposition movement. "Unfortunately, the pockets and the political influence through the lobbyists of GTC are such that we have had to be creative in our approach. Local courts have attempted to frame our involvement as being driven purely by emotions, but that could not be further from the truth. Thankfully, being good stewards of the city's resources is the main concern of our local elected officials."