A Washington dairy family claims the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation reneged on an agreement to help them relocate when condemning their property for an irrigation project.
The Dieringer family of Moses Lake, Wash., allege in a lawsuit it agreed to sell its dairy for $1.9 million separately from any relocation services the federal agency is required to provide to displaced farms under law.
Discussions about seizing the family’s land through eminent domain began about seven years earlier, when the Bureau of Reclamation decided another “feed route” was necessary to supply water to the Potholes reservoir of the Columbia Basin Project.
“In the ensuing 12 years, the Dieringers have lived and operated their dairy under a pending threat of condemnation, foregoing opportunities to expand their herd and increase their revenue,” the complaint said.
For years, the agency was unable to find a suitable site for relocating the dairy and negotiations eventually sputtered until the two sides agreed to a mediated settlement by a federal judge in 2014, according to the complaint.
Apart from selling their property, the deal entitled the Dieringers to buy 160 acres of federal land that was near their 600 irrigated acres on which the family grows cattle feed, the complaint said.
“Believing the Bureau would honor its end of the bargain, the Dieringers immediately set out to construct the new dairy,” the complaint said, noting that they also planned to move some pieces of equipment and replace others.
The Dieringers claim that under the Uniform Relocation Act, under which federal agencies must assist landowners displaced by public projects, the relocation benefits are supposed to be negotiated separately from property transactions.
However, the complaint alleges the Bureau of Reclamation hasn’t followed through on its obligations under that law or the mediated agreement they’d struck in 2014.
A spokesman for the Bureau of Reclamation said the agency cannot comment on pending litigation.
“The Bureau has not responded to the Dieringers’ relocation claim, and has not identified any flaws in the Dieringers’ relocation plan,” the complaint said. “Instead, the Bureau has taken the position that the Land Purchase Agreement included the sale of the Dieringers’ milking and other equipment, and therefore the Dieringers are not entitled to relocation assistance benefits for relocating any equipment.”
The lawsuit requests that a federal judge from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington issue a “writ of mandamus” compelling the bureau to fulfill its obligations under the law and the deal.