City could take legal action to get land

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 23, 2002

NATCHEZ &045; If city and county officials can’t get the owners of former slave market site to sell the property, they will take it by eminent domain.

Concerned citizens and local governments have pushed for the National Park Service to erect an interpretive center on the property at Liberty Road and St. Catherine Street, the site of the Forks of the Road, a 19th-century slave market.

The state awarded Natchez a $200,000 grant to purchase the property, but the three landowners &045; Cliff McCarstle, A.K. Moore and Gene Williams &045; have all refused to sell unless all the land is bought at one time.

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More than $2,200 has been raised to match the grant, and project supporters have lobbied the area’s congressional delegation for help in raising more funds, but more than $151,000 is still needed. The deadline for using the grant is Dec. 31, or the city will lose the funds.

&uot;We’re only talking about (taking) the property owned by Mr. Moore,&uot; City Attorney Walter Brown. &uot;Perhaps the other properties can fall in line in the future. The important thing is to keep the project moving.&uot;

Moore &045; whose parcel, at 0.23 acres, is the smallest of the parcels in question &045; could not be reached for comment Monday afternoon.

The Adams County Board of Supervisors last week voted to draft an interlocal agreement with the city to split the cost of buying the property and to take it by eminent domain, if necessary.

Supervisors President Darryl Grennell could not be reached for comment Monday afternoon.

The cost would be split 50-50 by the city and county &045; although how much that would be in dollars is still up in the air, depending on whether the state Department of Archives and History decides to extend the grant deadline.

&uot;We’re still hoping they might change their minds,&uot; Brown said.

Meanwhile, the city and county are expected to approve the interlocal agreement at their first meetings in January and to file in court for eminent domain by Feb. 1, Brown said.

Eminent domain proceedings, he added, usually take about six months to complete.

The average of two appraisals on the Moore property was $55,250. But including land and legal costs, obtaining the property could cost the city and county $30,000 to $35,000 each, Brown said.

&uot;If a jury gets it, it could be more,&uot; he said.