A six-year legal battle over a sewer easement case did not come to a close this week, as the Saranac Lake Village Board of Trustees voted 3-2 to appeal a judge's ruling.
The ruling, handed down by state Supreme Court Judge David Demarest in August of last year, states that the village of Saranac Lake improperly attempted to acquire sewer line easements along Riverside Drive and Kiwassa Drive between 2005 and 2007.
In his ruling, Demarest says the village made no effort to compensate the various property owners involved in the case, and that the village did not follow the state's Eminent Domain Procedure Law.
At Tuesday night's regular board meeting, trustees voted 3-2 to authorize the Harris Beach law firm to appeal the August 2010 decision.
Trustees Tom Catillaz and John McEneany voted in favor of the resolution, while Jeff Branch and Allie Pelletieri voted against it. In most cases, Mayor Clyde Rabideau does not cast a vote - but with the board split, Rabideau voted in favor of the measure.
Rabideau said that the current board never would have let the easement case go this far.
"I'm not an attorney," he said. "I did the best I could as a layman following the legal arguments and the advice of counsel, to whom we've paid about $100,000 - and for that money, I hope we're getting the right advice."
"I have to go with the legal counsel at this juncture," Rabideau added. "I do it reluctantly, and I do it with respect to village residents who are on the other side of the argument. I wish we had not gotten this far - if those attorneys were to come to us with a deal before this keeps on going, I'm sure we'd entertain it."
Deputy Mayor Jeff Branch pointed out that the case has spanned several boards and cost the village up to $250,000.
He noted that losing the appeal could add to that total.
"I think we really just need to cut our losses and run now," Branch said. "This has the potential of incurring another $100,000 in attorney fees which we could be liable for - that's one half of what we'd have to pay now. To continue on this course is just throwing good money after bad."
"I'm not in favor of it," he added. "I think we really need to cut our losses and run at this point - it's a bad chapter in the history of Saranac Lake and let's put it behind us and move forward."
As the resolution was being discussed, Trustee Allie Pelletieri said he wasn't sure how he would vote.
Pelletieri said he supports the rights of property owners, noting that a win for the village could set a precedent for future eminent domain proceedings. He also said the case was dragging on for too many years and it's time to move forward.
But Pelletieri added that the village can't set precedent for how it takes care of its infrastructure.
"The sewer line was placed there years ago," he said. "I'm willing to bet that before any of these people bought that property that sewer line ran there - so buyer beware."
"And it is the duty and the responsibility of the village to maintain a healthy community with water and sewer," Pelletieri added. "The location, next to the lake, only increases the need for us to take care of it."
Trustee Tom Catillaz was mayor when the case started. He said the village didn't cause any problems for the homes in question - he even went so far as to claim the property owners didn't realize the village was doing work until after the fact.
John McEneany said the village should appeal the decision on whether or not the affected individuals get back their legal fees - otherwise, the village is looking at paying back more than $225,000.