The Wyoming Department of Transportation should not have to provide information irrelevant to the condemnation lawsuit involving a Casper couple's land needed for the proposed West Belt Loop Road, attorneys for the state argued in a court hearing Wednesday.
"It's a large amount of work," Senior Assistant Attorney General Douglas Moench told District Judge Scott Skavdahl. "It would be a burden to the state of Wyoming and its employees."
WYDOT already has provided documents to Robert and Cynthia Schlidt and their attorney, Pat Crank, about the width and other aspects of the 7.5-mile road that would connect U.S. Highway 20/26 to Wyoming Highway 220, Moench and Special Assistant Attorney General David Ditto said.
However, the Schlidts and their properties -- limited liability companies Flying Seven One, Two and Three -- want to know why WYDOT wants to condemn land for a four-lane highway when it's planning for only a two-lane road, Crank said. "They cannot condemn more than one scrap of land more than what they need for this project."
WYDOT needs to provide more information, including e-mails and other correspondence, the amounts the department paid other landowners affected by the West Belt Loop Road, and documents from contractor AVI, he said.
Because Crank wanted this information going back to 2000, WYDOT asked the court for a protective order in January to legally block him from it. Crank filed his response on Feb. 11.
The legal sparring marked the latest action since the governor-appointed, seven-member Wyoming Transportation Commission voted in August to take 29 acres owned by the Schlidts and 29 acres owned by Robert and Judith Bradshaw.
The commission filed separate lawsuits against the couples in September after negotiations for their land proved futile, saying their land was needed to route commercial traffic around Casper,
The Schlidts and Bradshaws responded that WYDOT did not negotiate with them in good faith, didn't have the power of eminent domain to acquire rights of way for highways and violated state law.
The Bradshaws were not involved in Wednesday's hearing.
During the hearing, Skavdahl asked Ditto why WYDOT thought the offers it made to other landowners weren't relevant.
Ditto responded that property under a condemnation proceeding was not subject to the same methods of valuation as those in which the state and the sellers agreed on a price.
Ditto also didn't see how compensation offered to the Schlidts was relevant to what WYDOT paid for property two miles away, he said.
Skavdahl asked Crank why WYDOT and AVI should make more information available.
Crank responded that he needed to know about the designers of the project, those who made the decisions about land acquisitions and the operating systems of computers that may have deleted e-mails, he said. "We need to understand the entire process."
Moench took issue with Crank, saying WYDOT would not destroy e-mails. "This is one of the most wide-open agencies in the state of Wyoming," Moench said.
While the state has the power to condemn property for public works, it doesn't relish it, Moench said. "They are very, very reluctant to [invoke] eminent domain."
After the attorneys spoke, Skavdahl said Crank's requests seemed to be broad, and likened the quest for ever more information to peeling an onion and finding more and more layers, he said.
On the other hand, he thought what WYDOT paid other landowners, the effects on property values and information about the road itself merited disclosure, he said.
Skavdahl plans to issue his ruling on WYDOT's request at noon Monday, he said.
Reach Tom Morton at (307) 266-0592, or at email@example.com