Jury Sets Home Values in Pennsylvania Town Hit by Mine Fire

September 14, 2010

A Central Pennsylvania jury has set values for homes in a central Pennsylvania town decimated by a mine fire at values far below those sought by homeowners who are challenging the state’s condemnation of their property.

Tommy Hynoski said his mother’s home in Centralia should be worth about $90,000, based on what other homeowners in the area got for their properties, even though the home had to be supported by brick pillars after neighboring homes were torn down.

A Columbia County jury disagreed Friday and set the home’s value at half that amount. Two other landowners who challenged a state appraisal also got far less than they had in mind.

Jurors set a total value of $80,000 for the two homes of his cousin, Steven Hynoski, and a garage and land, despite his contention that the homes should bring $75,000 each and the land and garage another $22,000. Harold Mervine thought his late parents’ home should be worth $75,000, but the jury set the value at $40,000.

But Carl Womer, 86, who settled out of court with the Columbia County Redevelopment Authority, will get $82,000 for his house _ and he can stay there for the rest of his life.

A few remaining Centralia residents are embroiled in a long legal battle against the state, which condemned the town in 1993 because of a mine fire raging underground.

Most homes in Centralia were demolished in the 1980s as an underground fire that began in 1962 threatened residents with poisoning gases and dangerous sinkholes. A $42 million government relocation program was largely completed by 1993, when officials invoked eminent domain to get dozens of holdouts to leave.

A handful of residents, however, are resisting eviction, accusing state government of being part of a conspiracy to swipe mineral rights to hundreds of millions of dollars worth of anthracite coal that are now owned by the borough. They say the fire has either burned itself out or has moved away from the town, eliminating the eviction rationale.

The Columbia County jury was asked to set the fair value for three homesteads, although sales anytime soon are unlikely. With the values settled, the homeowners’ attorney, Bart Holmes, said he plans to appeal the condemnation to a higher court.

But Tommy Hynoski says property values weren’t the real issue in the case.

“There’ll be more trials after this,” he said. “The government just don’t want to leave (the remaining Centralians) alone.”

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