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Couple revisits long fight against interstate expansion

April 19, 2016

After more than a decade of fighting Interstate 69 and then watching it plow through their land anyway, a south-side Indianapolis couple thought they were done.

Then Bill and Jan Boyd got notice that their home off Stop 11 Road, near Bluff Road, was within the 2,000-foot study area for the final leg of I-69 planned to run along State Road 37 through Johnson and Marion counties. They already had to give up nearly 14 acres of their family farm in Greene County to Section 4 of I-69.

The Boyds won't lose their home or any of their property to the interstate this time.

But they already know what I-69 brings to an area: traffic, noise, light and air pollution and a change to the feel of a neighborhood, they said.

"Those are the kind of things people don't realize. It is going to happen," Bill Boyd said.

The couple's battle with I-69 began more than 10 years ago, when they learned their 47.5-acre family farm near Bloomfield was in the path of the interstate. The farm has been in their family for nearly 100 years. Bill and Jan Boyd bought the property from Jan Boyd's grandmother and then another 12 acres to add to it.

They were already opposed to the state's plan to build a new interstate. They questioned the need for I-69 and the route the state had chosen. They attended meeting after meeting, speaking emphatically against the state's plans.

But construction on the interstate forged ahead, and eventually the state began looking to buy land for Section 4.

The Boyds began getting letters in 2004 about studies the state was doing and that they planned to come on their property in Greene County. The state wanted to know about wetlands, streams and any historical areas.

They began researching their rights and the rules the state had to follow. They requested to be notified and go along with any surveyors, workers or contractors who were coming onto their property. They demanded to see state-issued identification from anyone coming to their property for the I-69 project.

They didn't let anyone on their property to appraise it because that discussion began before the state had even gotten final approval to build the interstate.

And they refused to let any work be done before the state officially owned their land, including a request to drill into the property to see what the soil was made of. Eventually, the state took them and other landowners who refused to cooperate to court and won.

"We fought because, No. 1, we didn't want them to take the property, but also, if you're going to do it, do it right," Bill Boyd said.

Then came the process of the state making offers for their land.

They turned down early offers to buy their property, promising them a 10 percent bonus if they signed within 30 days, and waivers for immediate access to their land with the promise of an extra $500. The fight was never about the money because the state never could have offered them enough to be worth losing their land, but they still wanted a fair deal, he said.

"We fought for principle, not necessarily money. We fought for the land, for the history. It was a piece of our life, and we didn't want to give it up," Bill Boyd said.

The property the state wanted for the interstate was the main flat, dry land on the farm, where they had four buildings they used for storing equipment and materials, including an old log structure they had planned to restore. They learned they were entitled to reimbursement for moving items and equipment on their property and demanded to be paid for that as well.

"It's your property and your home, and you deserve to get every dime out of it that you can. Unfortunately, the state holds all the cards," Bill Boyd said.

State officials understand that being asked to give up their property or home is emotional, and they do all they can to work with residents, said LaMar Holliday, Indiana Department of Transportation spokesman.

"The idea of giving that up, we understand that is not an easy task," Holliday said.

They help homeowners and business owners look for a new home or location, and work with them every step of the way, and try to make the process as smooth as possible, he said.

People would ask the Boyds why they fought so hard, especially with the court appearances, attorney costs and filings research they had to do. But to them, they never saw another option; they had to fight, they said.

In 2011, the Boyds joined other landowners and the resident-formed group Citizens for Appropriate Rural Roads and sued the state and federal governments, saying they had violated environmental and administrative rules. They also refused any offers for their land, and the state used eminent domain to get the property.

The eminent domain process lasted about three years, and the Boyds were the final landowners in Section 4 to reach an agreement with the state, they said. They decided not to go to trial and instead reached an agreement at mediation, a decision they now regret, they said.

And then construction began, a process that was even more heartbreaking as they watched workers cut down trees and tear up what used to be their land, they said.

For months, they dealt with noise, lights and dust from the construction. Nearby county roads crumbled under the constant traffic from construction crews.

Jan Boyd spent hours watching the construction crews work, making sure what was left of their land was not being damaged. They put up surveillance cameras after finding evidence that people had been on the property they hadn't sold to the state.

They filed multiple complaints with the state for noise, dust, smoke from equipment and trees that were being burned. They wanted to make sure crews were following the rules, they said.

And now that the road is built, their fight continues. Their property is getting sediment and runoff it has never before had problems with. The state has been on their property a few times to clean up or try to fix the damage, but the problem continues.

Access to their property and others nearby has also changed because certain roads were cut off when the interstate was built. For one of their neighbors, a few minute drive to get to another nearby road has now turned into a 15-minute trip, they said.

They also have the noise, sound and sight of a massive interstate a few hundred feet from their doorstep. It's a sickening sight and has caused them to avoid going to the property that used to be their retreat, they said.

And they are dreading being so close to the interstate again in their south-side home. Bluff Road has always been an easy route into downtown but won't be anymore. And other roads will constantly be congested with traffic, they said.

"People in Johnson and Marion counties, this is what you can expect unless we stop this project," Bill Boyd said.

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