Monday, February 28, 2011

City, Queensgate Terminals likely to go to trial – again

A lawsuit between the City of Cincinnati and Queensgate Terminals is likely to begin March 7, unless members of City Council agree to an eleventh-hour settlement plan.

In Council motions dated February 14 – and then February 22 – Councilmember Jeff Berding asked the City to take "all necessary steps" to sell the 31-acre Hilltop Basic Resources property in Lower Price Hill to Queensgate Terminals for fair market value, thereby settling a court judgement resulting from a prior lawsuit between the two parties.

In the lawsuit, owner Hilltop and lessee Queensgate Terminals sought to have eminent domain declared upon themselves, arguing that land appropriations taken by the City for the Waldvogel Viaduct Reconstruction Project cut off road access to the property.

A settlement in February 2007 required the City to purchase the property for $5 million, then to renegotiate a lease with Queensgate Terminals for its redevelopment as a $26 million barge-to-rail operation, which would ship bulk soybeans to a much larger Bluegrass Farms of Ohio, Inc. and Rail America multi-modal facility in Jeffersonville, Ohio.

A lease was never negotiated, and, in a story appearing in the February 25 Cincinnati Enquirer, Berding said that he didn't have enough Council backing to move forward with his latest proposal.

No votes have been taken on the motion, and no ordinances authorizing the sale have been drafted.

"City Council may not wish to sell this site," Berding said in a statement accompanying the motion. "However, it is prudent to settle the case before it proceeds to trial in early March."

Cutting losses

Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas Judge Ralph Winkler has already required the City to deposit $1.7 million in damages in advance of the trial. Queensgate Terminals owner David Martin is expected to seek up to $3.9 million more in lost profits and other damages.

"Given the state of the City budget, we are not in a financial position to pay further, and settlement now actually recoups taxpayer funds while avoiding uncapped legal risk," Berding said.

Residents of Lower Price Hill and surrounding stakeholders have protested Martin's plans, citing concerns about light, noise, pollution, and other effects that they deem detrimental to the resurgence of their neighborhoods.

Instead, they have supported residential or recreational use for the site.

"While I understand that a new riverfront park is the vision many aspire to, we cannot afford the park and the Court is not going to allow us to deny the land to this business without first paying a substantial sum for the land and damages," Berding said. "Council should protect the taxpayers and cut our losses."

Previous reading on BC:
Queensgate Terminals proposal left off of council agenda (10/13/09)
Lower Price Hill: City solicitor must recuse himself, City must assess Queensgate Terminals' impacts (6/22/09)
Martin says Queensgate Terminals will be 'something that Cincinnati people are proud of' (5/4/09)
River West Working Group latest to oppose Queensgate Terminals (4/16/09)
Professor calls newest Queensgate Terminals report 'flawed' (3/18/09)