Mercyhealth sues state over land for I-90/39 project

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Frank Schultz
Sunday, August 6, 2017

JANESVILLEMercyhealth is fighting the state Department of Transportation over a piece of land the state wants for its Interstate widening project in Janesville.

The land, listed as 0.09 acre on a county plat map of the project, is a part of the Mercyhealth North campus on Deerfield Drive, said Mercyhealth Vice President Barb Bortner.

The state is seeking to acquire the property, and Mercyhealth is suing to stop the acquisition.

Among Mercyhealth's concerns is that losing the land to the Interstate 90/39 project would make other parts of Mercyhealth's property unusable, the lawsuit indicates.

The land lies between Deerfield Drive and Interstate 90/39. The state is widening the Interstate between the state line and Madison.

Mercy has no immediate plans for the land, “but that doesn't mean that in a year, we won't. Janesville is growing, and Milton is growing, and there's a lot of people we need to serve,” Bortner said.

“We are working through the process in regard to the purchase of our land, and we have engaged legal counsel to assist us,” Bortner added.

Representing Mercyhealth is Erik Olsen of Eminent Domain Services, who declined to comment.

Attached to the lawsuit is a copy of a June 20 letter to Mercyhealth from an attorney for the state, G.J. Miesbauer & Associates, “right-of-way acquisition experts.”

Negotiations “failed to reach a satisfactory conclusion,” so the DOT was offering a “jurisdictional offer,” a step in the process for acquiring the land through the state's eminent domain statute, the letter states.

Eminent domain is a process for acquiring land against the wishes of the owners.

Mercyhealth had 20 days to accept the offer of $54,900 but apparently did not.

If Mercyhealth did not accept the offer, the state would proceed with the eminent domain process, the letter states.

The lawsuit asks a judge to nullify the state's actions to acquire the land, to stop any award of damages to the state and for a judgment that the state does not have the right to condemn the property.

A spokesman for the state DOT said the agency does not comment on litigation.

The lawsuit contends that:

— The state sent its offer to the wrong person, not to Mercyhealth's “registered agent,” as required.

— The state failed to negotiate in good faith before the jurisdictional offer, failing “to disclose material facts relating to the project which would allow the plaintiffs to meaningfully negotiate and evaluate the offer,” including planned changes in road grade and elevation, an access plan for the land and any effects on Mercyhealth's remaining property.

— Taking the land could leave Mercy with a property remnant that is of little or no value because of the Interstate project, and the state has not offered to buy that portion of the land.

The county plat map shows two other pieces of land that would join the Mercyhealth property to form a strip along the east side of I-90/39 along Deerfield Drive.

The map lists the other parcels as belonging to Janesville Ventures and Campbell Limited Partnership.

The state has 45 days to respond to the lawsuit, which was filed July 21.

The case is assigned to Judge Barbara McCrory.

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