When the Southwestern Illinois Flood Prevention District Council changed a major component of its levee restoration design from graded filters to seepage berms, it greatly expanded the amount of property that would be needed. And, it created a large project for a new member of the levee restoration project team of Bernardin, Lochmueller & Associates Inc.
While BLA was founded as a planning firm in 1980, the company has evolved into a full-service survey, planning, engineering and environmental firm serving clients nationwide and listed in Engineering News Record’s “Top 500 Design Firms.” About nine years ago, BLA added real estate appraisal to its repertoire.
Todd Halfman is a senior engineer and the manager of the land acquisition services at BLA. Halfman says BLA will be doing appraisals of approximately 200 properties covering much of the five-levee system from Alton down to Columbia. His staff has begun on the south end, working on appraisals in the Columbia, Dupo and East Carondelet area.
Most of the properties in that southern end, Halfman says, are farm properties and the interests that the SWIFPD are seeking are permanent easements so that owners will retain ownership in the property but the district will be able to alter the property and maintain it to prevent flooding. The berms are essentially earth blankets that bolster the levees.
Appraising easements on farmland is pretty straightforward, according to Halfman. The design team determines how far the berms must reach, how much land will be needed for the berms and the value is then determined based on comparable sales of farmland in the area.
Because there are so many parcels to be appraised and because everyone involved is anxious to keep the overall project on track, Halfman says his team is working hard to produce an appraisal within 30 days. The appraisal is turned over to another firm that is handling property negotiation and acquisition. That, says Halfman, can get complicated.
“It used to be a husband and wife owned the farm,” Halfman said. “Now a lot of them are owned by a trust and some of them have them in LLCs, LLPs and that kind of thing, so you’ve got to figure out who actually owns the property and who actually has the right to convey it.”
Halfman adds that the appraisal job will become more complicated as BLA moves north into commercial, industrial and railroad properties in the Sauget, East St. Louis and Granite City areas. Just finding out who owns the property can be a challenge. But, he says, the BLA team has plenty of experience.
“BLA provides full-service land acquisition services, so we can handle pretty much any project that comes along,” Halfman said. “We did all of the appraisals and negotiations on the expansion of Ill. Rte.159 through Collinsville and now we’re working on the high-speed rail project from St. Louis to Chicago, so we’ve been involved in some pretty major projects.”