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Published August 12, 2010, 03:46 PM

Farmers blast Indiana over I-69 land acquisitions

HAUBSTADT, Ind. — Southwestern Indiana farmers in the path of an interstate expansion say they are frustrated by the state’s handling of buyouts of their properties, complaining that the prices being offered are too low and the acquisitions will chop up their land.

HAUBSTADT, Ind. — Southwestern Indiana farmers in the path of an interstate expansion say they are frustrated by the state’s handling of buyouts of their properties, complaining that the prices being offered are too low and the acquisitions will chop up their land.

The Indiana Department of Transportation is in the process of buying 615 parcels of land it needs for the first three sections of the I-69 extension. So far, INDOT has spent $20.3 million to buy 209 parcels. Another $69.7 million is budgeted for purchases through June 30, 2011.

“At this time we feel we have been fair to all property owners throughout the right-of-way acquisition process as well as continuing to be a good steward of the taxpayer’s dollars,” INDOT spokeswoman Cher Goodwin told the Evansville Courier & Press.

But farmers say the prices the state is offering are too low for them to buy comparable land elsewhere, and some say the state has a “take it or leave it” approach. Property owners have 30 days after being contacted about a land deal to accept the offer or reject it and go to court.

“They come in, they make you an offer,” said Larry Schwiersch, who owns a Gibson County farm that is in the path of the expansion. “But it’s not simply an offer. It’s the price, unless you want to go to court.”

A farmhouse and dozens of acres on Schwiersch’s family farm were the state’s first purchases for I-69 in 2009. Schwiersch says the result will ruin the bucolic view from the property.

“Before this, I looked out at the sunset, and everything was peaceful and quiet. Now we’re going to have interstate traffic 150 feet from my front door. That’s not something I’m looking forward to,” he said.

He and Kenneth Stunkel, who sold 13 acres in Gibson County for $79,000, are unhappy with the prices offered, saying they believe the state paid too little.

“I can’t go out on an auction somewhere and buy acre-for-acre what I got from the state,” Stunkel said.

Larry Michel, 57, said he sees a use for the highway. But he worries that it’s cutting across farms instead of running parallel to them and says he is concerned about how the state will deal with drainage issues.

Michel said one of the fields he tends is a mile from his house, but the interstate will bisect the land, forcing him to travel at least five miles to reach the field.

The Indianapolis-to-Evansville I-69 extension is part of a larger push to extend the interstate from Canada to Mexico. The state hopes to finish the first half of the extension, from Evansville to the Crane Naval Warfare Center, by the end of 2012.

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