PROSPECT, Maine — The state Department of Transportation has agreed to pay the owners of the Sail Inn Restaurant nearly three-quarters of a million dollars to settle a lawsuit over the state’s taking of the property by eminent domain to build the Penobscot Narrows Bridge.
Attorneys for the department and brothers Paul and Robert Dyer issued a joint statement Thursday afternoon, announcing the settlement.
“The parties agreed to a settlement payment in the amount of $725,000, thus avoiding further unnecessary legal expenses, court costs and statutory interest,” they said in the statement. “The settlement ends this dispute in a manner that all agree is fair to both parties and the entire Dyer family.”
The DOT took the popular restaurant property in 2003 when it began construction of the new bridge. The Dyers initially did not contest the taking of the Sail Inn, which had been operated by the family for half a century. But family members challenged the amount offered by the department for the property and filed suit in Waldo County Superior Court in 2005.
The Dyers also later challenged the legality of the taking, asserting that much of the nearly 5-acre property was not needed for the construction and that the restaurant was not demolished until just before the new bridge was opened in December 2006.
The DOT countered that the restaurant’s location presented a traffic hazard for patrons and drivers once the new bridge was completed. State officials also said the complete taking was necessary among other reasons because more than 1 acre was used during construction and the project required severe blasting across from the restaurant, which created a safety risk.
That eminent domain case went to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, which in June ruled in favor of the DOT.
The lawsuit that was pending at the time of the settlement focused on the value of the property that included the restaurant, which occupied about one-third of an acre along Route 1 and the adjacent 4.5 acres of steep embankment and land along the Penobscot River.
The joint statement issued Thursday noted that, in accordance with a state appraisal by an independent certified appraiser, the department paid the Dyers $225,000 for the Sail Inn property. After the Dyers’ challenge of the appraisal, the Maine State Claims Commission, a neutral body specifically created by law to determine just compensation, found in 2005 that the property was worth $470,000.
The DOT agreed to pay this amount, but the Dyers appealed, claiming they should be compensated up to $2 million for the property and the business. Protracted litigation followed, and, over the years, four separate real estate appraisals — two for each side — have ranged from the state’s low of $225,000 to the Dyers’ high appraisal of $577,000.
After court-ordered mediation on Sept. 18, 2008, the Dyers, for the first time, substantially reduced their cash demand. The parties then were able to agree on a settlement amount and reach consensus on issues and concerns of the Dyers.
The statement did not expand on those issues.
When reached Thursday night, family spokesman Dick Dyer would not comment on the settlement other than to say that part of the agreement stipulated that all comments would come from the parties’ attorneys.
On a related matter that received some recent media attention, the Dyers acknowledged that the state never indicated it was interested in taking the abutting Sail Inn property owned by the Dyers’ mother, Vera Dyer.
This summer, the Dyers held a news conference at their mother’s home, claiming that the DOT planned to build a road under the new bridge, a project they said would require taking Vera Dyer’s home.
“The parties are pleased that this case has been settled and look forward to finally putting this matter to an end,” the joint statement concluded.