The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Brothers sue VDOT over land damage
Andrew and Henry Miller lost almost an acre of their Stafford County property to a bridge project, but say all they wanted in return were trees and an extra entrance to their land.
That was before the 70-year-old twin brothers realized the amount of damage they say was caused to their property by the Mingles Hill bridge project on State Route 630 east of Stafford Courthouse.
It also was before what they describe as the Virginia Department of Transportation’s reluctance to acknowledge the situation.
“I loved the place when we bought it. I thought, heck, this is my dream,” Andrew Miller said last week on the property north of Brooke. “They just ruined it.”
Andrew Miller has lived on the property since 1968. His brother is co-owner but lives in Fairfax County. They operate a sand and gravel hauling business from the Stafford property.
“It’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve seen in my life,” Henry Miller said of how he and his brother have been treated.
The ordeal started for the Millers in late 2007 when VDOT notified them that part of their property was needed for improvements to Courthouse Road.
The $7.1 million project replaced a 94-year-old single-lane bridge with a wider, taller span over the CSX railroad tracks. The work also moved Route 630 closer to the Millers’ property, lopping off about 50 yards of yard frontage, which included a row of pine trees. And the road was raised, so it now runs above the Millers’ land.
The brothers contend that the project has caused serious damage to their property and that now VDOT owes them more than the original offer.
VDOT offered the Millers $42,000 for the property it took. The brothers said the highway department also agreed to replace the trees.
But no trees have been planted.
After years of getting nowhere, the brothers hired Chuck Lollar, an attorney with Waldo & Lyle, a Norfolk-based law firm that specializes in eminent domain and property rights.
They have a lawsuit against VDOT with a trial set for Oct. 1.
VDOT referred questions to the Virginia Attorney General’s office, which handles lawsuits involving the highway department. Efforts to get comment from the Attorney General’s office about the lawsuit were unsuccessful.
After the project was completed in the summer of 2011, problems appeared, the Millers say, starting with what they describe as a mountain of excavated dirt that was dumped adjacent to their property.
The Millers and Lollar say a neighbor allowed the contractor to dump the soil from the project onto his property. The top of the large mound was leveled off, and vegetation has since grown on it.
But the hill still towers over the Millers’ property, and they say it has caused serious erosion problems on their land, which is divided into a pair of parcels totaling about 16 acres. The erosion problems negatively impacted wetlands and basically destroyed a path to the back parcel, making it difficult to drive there, the Millers and Lollar contend.
The construction project has caused other issues, the Millers say.
Rainwater often fills the shallow well that serves the house, they say. Andrew Miller said he drinks bottled water now because of contamination to the well.
“I buy my water,” he said. “Even for the dog. I don’t let him drink it.”
The changes to the property also have caused the gravel driveway to wash out twice during rainstorms, the Millers say.
Lollar said the law requires VDOT to pay fair value for land it takes for projects. But the department also is “responsible for any impact that reduces the value of the property,” he said.
Lollar hired Stokes Environmental Associates to inspect the property. Thomas Stokes said his research shows the soil was dumped without permits and that mud has filled the wetlands. He also said the slope created by the dirt mound requires a retaining wall.
Lollar said VDOT likely is on the hook for some $200,000, but added that “it could be more.”
He hasn’t had much luck dealing with the department.
Lollar said he met with VDOT officials last summer in an effort to mediate the case, but the highway department has otherwise ignored the situation.
“I just couldn’t get them to do anything,” he said.
Lollar, who still holds out hope the case can be mediated, said the state usually responds to such cases, which is what has perplexed him on this matter.
“You don’t see the state just kind of walking away from something like this,” he said. “This is terrible.”
Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436
The Virginia Department of Transportation had to acquire more than 1,000 parcels for statewide road work last year, and the department is on pace to do it again in 2013.
*Through June 30