When the Kaw Lake water pipeline project transitions into phase three this fall, a schedule risk will be addressed as land acquisition efforts kick off.

There will be 240 land parcels crossed along the pipeline route, and the city of Enid will acquire a permanent easement for the pipeline and a temporary easement for construction, Garver Engineering Program Manager Michael Graves said last week in an Enid City Commission study session. The easements will be 50 feet wide.

Graves gave a general overview of the land acquisition process.

A land acquisition consultant, Smith-Roberts Land Services, will provide and coordinate the acquisition services, which will include property valuation, coordination with landowners, negotiations with landowners, helping to secure easements and presenting packages to the commission for approval, he said.

There is a detailed procedure and policy for communication with landowners, Graves said.

“In addition to the schedule risk, we think this has a very important component from a public relations standpoint for this project,” he said. “We will define a set of boundaries that our field personnel are comfortable working in, that you’re comfortable with our folks working in and when that boundary gets pushed, we’re going to get the city involved.”

Graves presented a diagram of the process.

In it, a letter of notice is sent to the landowner. An estimate of fair market value offer will be prepared, reviewed and sent to the landowner. Those will be activities handled by Smith-Roberts Land Services, he said.

If the landowner accepts, the acquisition process will be completed, but if the landowner declines, good faith negotiations will begin, Graves said. City staff, legal, engineering and administration will be involved in any good faith negotiations.

The acquisition process will be completed if those negotiations are successful, but if negotiations are not successful, city legal staff will continue to be engaged, along with possibly the city commission, he said. The diagram states the matter will be transferred to the city of Enid legal department.

All the diagram means is a separate effort will be made to work with landowners in coming up with a resolution that’s beneficial for everybody, City Manager Jerald Gilbert explained later last week.

Smith-Roberts Land Services deals with acquisition processes like these in many situations, and their instructions from the city are to work with everyone, he said.

“The commission will help establish fair market value for these folks to go out and talk to the people about, when the time comes,” Gilbert said. “The city’s intent is to get to a win-win with the landowners, working through this process.”

City officials do not believe eminent domain will be needed in the process, he said.

“The city’s not interested in doing that. The city’s interested in working fairly with landowners to pay fair market value and resolve issues. That’s what we’re interested in,” Gilbert said.

During the meeting, when asked about the ability to shift the pipeline route over as a means for dealing with any unsuccessful negotiations, Graves said there is a little ability, but it’s not ideal.

“It’s not ideal because every time we move, it adds cost. You can’t just jog a whole lot, so if you’re going to move, you’re going to move for a little while,” he said.

There is some access to county and state rights of way for the project, but it’s “absolutely not” desirable, Graves said.

Mayor Bill Shewey asked what would happen if there’s a tenant on the land, and if the city would deal with them in the process.

City of Enid Engineering Director Chris Gdanski said the city will communicate with the landowner, but would at least have to communicate with tenants when it comes to crops, and when the tenant or the contractors on the project need to be in the field.

“The reason why we’ve written this down, and why we have processes and procedures in place, we have over 240 opportunities to stub our toes, and if we don’t use the same process and the same people talking the same thing, that risk goes up and we don’t really need to go there,” he said.

Anyone approaching landowners will have a shirt or a hat with a logo, and will carry a card explaining who they are with contact information, Gdanski said.

“I don’t know if I’ll get an easement to you in this calendar year,” he said, adding contact will be made with landowners.

Some landowners already are being contacted by Smith-Roberts Land Services for another part of the process, Gdanski said.

Graves said Garver Engineering has worked with Smith-Roberts Land Services for a long time.

“They’re very good at what they do, and have a long track record of success,” he said. “We have had a lot of opportunity to interact with these landowners over the last two and a half years through the environmental work … that requires right of entry,” he said.

He said there has been a high success rate of obtaining right of entry.

Ward 2 Commissioner Derwin Norwood Jr. asked if advanced public notice of the project and its possible impact will be given.

City efforts have been made, including videos, flyers and the website being maintained, Graves said.

“That will really ramp up prior to the construction phase, at the end of this phase three, the design phase. There’s not a lot of boots on the ground, and certainly no heavy equipment and construction activity going on in this phase. But toward the end of this phase and the beginning of the next phase, we are suggesting that the public relations component of this program really ramp up,” he said.

By then, it will be known where digging will occur, and what areas are going to be impacted, Graves said.

Gdanski said city officials already have been in contact with all the county commissioners along the route. There will be further visits as soon as land acquisition begins, and again when construction starts. There may be public meetings, and letters will go out on a regular basis as new developments occur.

“By that time, our goal is to have 240 neighbors,” he said.

Story provided by Enid News and Eagle

Written by Jessica Miller