Judge appointed to hear lawsuit against county

LOGGING LAWSUIT UPDATE

Retired Etowah County Judge William Cardwell has been appointed by the Alabama Administrative Office of Courts (AOC) to preside over a lawsuit filed last year by Blount County landowner Todd Palmer and associated timber interests against Commissioner Allen Armstrong and the Blount County Commission. Cardwell replaces Circuit Judge Steven King of the 41st Circuit Court (Blount County) who recused himself from the case. King served formerly as attorney for the county commission.

The case is styled as TD Farms LLC and River Bend Plantation LLC, both entities owned by Blount County landowner Todd Palmer of Tuscaloosa; Alabama Forestry Association; Eric Martin, professional forestry consultant under contract to the landowner; and Jerry Crawford, professional logger under contract to the landowner versus Blount County and Allen Armstrong, in his capacity as District 1 Commissioner of Blount County.

Since the initial Feb. 12 date scheduled for hearing in Blount County Circuit Court, the case had been continued awaiting appointment of a hearing judge. Meanwhile, the county commission filed a motion to dismiss the suit after rescinding weight limits imposed on county roads, one of the suit’s major complaints.

Logging interests filed an answer demurring to that motion. No ruling has been issued on either motion and will presumably be the first order of business when Cardwell is ready to go forward with the case.

At issue in the case are three conflicting elements: (1) the right of private interests to use county roads for commercial operations, and the extent to which they can be held accountable for damage to public roads caused during those operations, (2) the responsibility of county government to maintain infrastructure paid for at public expense and to protect public safety and welfare, and, (3) the extent to which a government entity may go – or not go – to protect the public investment by holding private interests accountable for damage that occurs as a result of commercial operations.

Plaintiffs have filed for the following damages:

Eric Martin: $40,000 for loss of income due to denial of business opportunity by the Blount County Commission.

Jerry Crawford: $10,000 for loss of income due to denial of business opportunity by the Blount County Commission.

Todd Palmer/River Bend Plantation LLC (original claim dated 3/9/12): $1,453,000 for loss of value of real property through the imposition of weight limits on three roads by the Blount County Commission.

Todd Palmer/River Bend Plantation LLC: (second claim dated 5/12/12) $2,343,000, for loss of value of real property, etc. (Difference from first claim reflects $600 per acre increase in estimated lost value per acre.)

The next stage of the case should be Cardwell’s ruling on pending motions, followed by the setting of a court date if the case goes to trial.