(BLOOMINGTON) - Two months ago, a judge told state highway officials and a couple whose property is being cleared for the construction of Interstate 69 through Monroe County to forge an agreement that would meet the concerns of both: construction crews worried about safety and citizens who want to document the destruction of their land.
A mediator was appointed June 5th, but no date has been set for the two sides to sit down with him to discuss the issue. In the meantime, Monroe Circuit Judge Francie Hill has issued an interim order preventing Thomas and Sandra Tokarski from going onto the land, which they still hold title to.
During a June 18 hearing on an emergency motion filed by the Indiana Department of Transportation, construction engineer Daniel Guest said work in the karst topography in western Monroe County had begun, increasing the dangers for the Tokarskis, who took photographs of the excavation work to document perceived violations of environmental standards.
Testimony was that Thomas Tokarski walked "dangerously close" to the karst excavation and deep exposed areas, creating a "significant" danger to himself. Guest said large and dangerous machinery will be moving in and that work may continue until the spring of 2014.
Tokarski said he and his wife have hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon in bad weather and back up, and that they are not worried about injuring themselves on the uneven and rocky terrain on their farm. They are more concerned with watching and photographing the progress of the construction of a highway they have been fighting in the courts for 20 years. He said the state has turned down proposals offering compromise.
Despite the testimony about INDOT's concern for his safety, Tokarski argues officials want to keep the public from seeing what the highway construction is unearthing.
"All they want is for us to be off the property, and now they've got that, so I don't see why they would have any interest in mediation," Tokarski said. "There are still places we can walk on the public road and see, but that sinkhole I took pictures of would not have been visible from there." He said the judge's ruling "blindfolds the public, so they don't have to see."
For now, the Tokarskis are banned from the property in the construction area, even though they still own it because they are in dispute with the state over its value.
The ban lasts until there's a settlement both sides agree to; Bloomington attorney Joe O'Connor has been assigned to mediate. If they cannot agree, the judge will make the decision.
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