Property owners balk at PennDOT offers for land to complete thruway
SELINSGROVE — Jon Hummel knew construction of the $865 million Central Susquehanna Valley Transportation Project would impact farmland that has been in his family for seven generations.
What he didn’t expect was how little the state would pay for about 20 acres they own in Selinsgrove and Winfield.
“We knew it was coming but we didn’t expect such a low offer,” Hummel said. “It’s not even close to market value.”
Construction of the highway has led the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to purchase or work toward acquiring property from about 225 people who own land in its path, spokeswoman Maggie Baker said.
As of Monday, the state has spent about $21.7 million purchasing property for the right-of-way access, she said.
The figure includes compensation paid to landowners as well as reimbursements of expenses paid for an appraiser, engineer, or attorney to evaluate PennDOT’s offer, costs of relocating a residence or business and PennDOT’s costs for appraisals, negotiations, and building demolitions.
Construction of the northern section of the highway project required the state to obtain full or partial property right-of-way acquisitions from about 100 property owners, Baker said.
For the southern section, the state needs to access land owned by about 125 property owners. To date, they’ve settled with about 90 landowners and continue to negotiate with the others as construction of that section is scheduled to begin next year.
Baker said each landowner receives an explanation of “just compensation” which is required under the law and defined by the Pennsylvania Eminent Domain Code.
“Oftentimes claimants do not agree with how we are required to formulate these offers,” she said.
PennDOT is also required, by law, to pay property owners up to $4,000 for them to hire their own appraiser, engineer or attorney, if they choose.
“They are free to hire a certified appraiser to formulate an educated counter offer, and we are always willing to negotiate an amicable settlement in lieu of having to resort to acquiring the property through eminent domain,” Baker said.
Developer Robert Grayston is among the property owners losing land to the state to make way for the bypass.
After failing to reach an agreement, PennDOT sent him letters earlier this month notifying him that they had filed action in Snyder County Court to take by eminent domain several acres of land he owns in Monroe Township and Shamokin Dam and would pay him $25,500 for it. The letters indicate his right to petition the court for an independent review of the offer and the state’s willingness to negotiate with him on the compensation as they pursue legal action.
Grayston has been through this before and is frustrated that PennDOT is taking acreage away in “piecemeal” fashion and failing to adequately compensate him for it.
When the state agency had to relocate a gas line near his property in Shamokin Dam where he had planned a sprawling housing development off Baldwin Avenue and Sunbury Road, they took five acres of Grayston’s property, causing him to redo the blueprint of his housing plans.
Last week, Grayston was notified that PennDOT would be taking another acre of land at the site and is offering $6,400 for it.
He received a separate letter indicating the state was also seeking legal recourse to take property he owns off Airport Road and is offering $19,100 for land he says is worth about $100,000.
Most of that property is located in an industrial zone and abuts a stormwater treatment pond he has on the site, as well as a nearby residential property he owns that has an onsite septic system.
Grayston purchased the property fully aware of the CSVT project since he considered it an ideal location near the soon-to-be-built bypass and across the road from the Penn Valley Airport.
“But I didn’t think they’d come this way,” he said, indicating the vacant property north of his land. “Why are they creeping on an industrial site?”
Hummel, who operates several agricultural businesses in the Valley, also questions why the state hasn’t considered ways that would be less impactful on property owners.
A year ago, PennDOT argued its case about the proposed CSVT design to the Pennsylvania Agricultural Lands Condemnation Approval Board, which granted the state agency’s request for land acquisition following a hearing in August 2020 and giving PennDOT the ability to condemn productive farmland and allow for the highway construction.
To construct the bridge in the northern section of the CSVT, PennDOT went through 60 acres of Hummel-owned farmland in Union County, he said.
Hummel’s brother, Kyle, is losing his Stetler Avenue home in Snyder County and Hummel said the cattle farm they operate nearby will be curtailed by the loss of land where they now store feed and equipment.
“When PennDOT came to us about six to eight months ago with their offer, there was no consideration of the business implication to our livelihood whatsoever,” Hummel said. “We are the Hummels of Hummels Wharf, but it doesn’t mean anything.”