The Milcrofton Utility District officially filed Friday, Oct. 22, a petition for condemnation of the historic Menefee-Byrd farm in Brentwood — an early step toward the public taking of part of the property.
Making good on the vote of its board in September to petition for condemnation of the target 1.73 acres of land, the company now requests in the circuit court of the 21st judicial district that eminent domain be used to acquire the land for $86,500 so that they can develop it with a pair of 2 million-gallon water storage tanks, each comparable in size to a two-story house.
Since the board’s decision became public, much ado has been made by local residents near Holly Tree Gap Road as well as county officials about how little is understood about the authority of utilities like this one — private companies historically established as public entities and therefore afforded certain rights of government.
“The Milcrofton Utility Board’s overreaching attempt to seize and destroy part of our historic farm is both arbitrary and capricious. The non-elected utility board has filed a lawsuit to condemn our property without conducting the necessary due diligence required by law,” said property owner Andrew W. Byrd in response to the petition.
The petition claims the locale is “necessary to meet anticipated growth in customer demand, to maintain constant pressure and to reduce [Milcrofton’s] reliance on pumping.”
How necessary the site is has been challenged by not only Marianne Menefee Byrd and her husband Andrew Byrd — in whose family the property has been held for a total of 65 years — but also by County Commissioner Bert Chalfant who expressed concern a month ago that this public taking of property may suggest anyone’s property can be seized by government, even a private company in this case, on a whim.
A month ago, just under 400 nearby residents had signed a petition to Save Holly Tree Gap Road from “government overreach, and the liberal use of eminent domain.” Since then, another 1,000 have joined them.
The road bed directly bifurcates the Menefee-Byrd farm alongside the target hillside, which the Byrds and their property manager, John Richards, claim is too unstable for the proposed, infrastructural development to be feasible. The hillside is prone to landslides, Richards told Home Page, and the road therefore risks being submerged by such an incident as it has in the past. Building these reservoirs there might only exacerbate the problem.
“We have made multiple attempts to review their site selection process, archeological surveys and environmental impact studies, which they have not produced, and likely never conducted,” Byrd added.
Home Page also requested to see such documents, and without confirming or denying whether any engineering studies had been done, Milcrofton shared only a water distribution memo for the area it currently services, which is impertinent to the Holly Tree Gap Farm, the attempted seizure thereof or any study onsite.
“How did all of these companies — how did they gain such autonomy in regard to their own businesses?” Chalfant asked at the time when approaching County Mayor Rogers Anderson on the issue. “Because of the geography of the county, they sort of broke it off into blocks, and this is how it ended up. You’ve got virtually a three- to five-person board that controls their area only.”
That area is also now in question as Milcrofton’s attempted land-grab in progress appears to supersede any jurisdictional constraints. The Byrd property sources its water from the Mallory Valley Utility District, and Milcrofton merely operates as a proxy for the Harpeth Valley Utilities District, which brings water underground all the way from the Cumberland River in Nashville.
Milcrofton Utility treated well water for local farmers in the Millview and Clovercroft communities until 1972 when Williamson County outlined its water districts, including those that now comprise the HB&TS, Mallory Valley, Milcrofton and Nolensville-College Grove Utility Districts.
Named individually in the lawsuit, the Byrds plan to fight the petition tooth and nail in court, as evidenced by their retaining the same high-powered, local law firm Amazon chose to represent them before municipalities when establishing its development projects in the Greater Nashville area: Tune Entrekin & White, P.C. Named partner Tom V. White in particular will represent the family.
Michael J. Wall and Jack F. Smith, III of Branstetter, Stranch & Jennings, PLLC. filed the petition on the water company’s behalf.