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Department of Transportation v. Agricultural Lands Condemnation Approval Board

September 1, 2010

DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, PETITIONER
v.
AGRICULTURAL LANDS CONDEMNATION APPROVAL BOARD, RESPONDENT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Senior Judge Kelley

Submitted: May 14, 2010

BEFORE: HONORABLE RENÉE COHN JUBELIRER, Judge, HONORABLE PATRICIA A. McCULLOUGH, Judge, HONORABLE JAMES R. KELLEY, Senior Judge.

OPINION

The Department of Transportation (DOT) petitions for review of a final order of the Agricultural Lands Condemnation Approval Board (Board), which denied DOT's request to convert productive agricultural lands to transportation use by condemnation. We reverse.

By letter dated August 18, 2009, DOT requested a hearing before the Board for consideration of DOT's request to convert by exercise of the power of condemnation, if necessary, productive agricultural lands to transportation use for the Lebanon County, Schaefferstown Bypass Project, State Route (S.R.) 501, Section 006, transportation improvement project (Project). Along with the application, DOT provided the Board with a Farmland Assessment Report. A hearing before the Board was held on September 29, 2009.

At the hearing, DOT presented the testimony of Douglas P. Murphy, DOT district project manager; L. Brian Hoover, project engineer and a board-certified engineer; and Douglas George, project manager and board-certified engineer. In opposition, Lois G. Kline, Leon H. Kline, and Andrew Kline (collectively, the Klines) testified.

Based upon the testimony and evidence presented, the Board made the following relevant findings of fact. The Project would realign approximately 1.6 miles of S.R. 501, a two-lane highway facility, in Lebanon County, to reroute traffic around the Village of Schaefferstown. DOT identified three Project needs:

(1) Reduce congestion along S.R. 501 within the Village of Schaefferstown

* Deficient Levels of Service (LOS)[*fn1 ]

* Percentage of Through Traffic

* High Truck Percentages

(2) Improve safety along S.R. 501

* Geometric Deficiencies

* High Crash Rates

(3) Improve regional system continuity

Board's 10/19/2009 decision at 20; Reproduced Record (R.R.) at 185a, 248a.

The Project study area is approximately one mile wide and is predominantly productive agricultural land, including prime farmland soils and farmland soils of statewide importance as defined by the Farmland Protection Policy Act of 1981 (Farmland Act).*fn2 In its review of agricultural lands proposed for condemnation, the Board is required to consider the Commonwealth's Agricultural Land Preservation Policy, 4 Pa. Code ยงยง 7.301 -- 7.308, which intends to protect and preserve prime agricultural land which has been and continues to be in active agricultural ...


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