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Cohee business could be purchased to make way for bypass

February 14, 2001|By DARREN SIMON, Staff Writer

BRAWLEY — The project to wrap Highway 111 around this city could lead the state Department of Transportation to buy out a business at the center of a lawsuit against a beef-processing plant here.

Three routes for the Highway 111 bypass are being considered. Each would have the highway wrap around the north end of the city, where it would connect to Highway 86.

One alternative, the Fredricks Road option, could lead Caltrans to buy out La Bolsa Inc., a soil-reclamation business owned by Darwin Cohee.

A hearing in Imperial County Superior Court is set for Friday to determine whether a lawsuit filed by Cohee against the beef plant will move forward.


Cohee's lawsuit stems from his concern that traffic brought by the beef plant will make it impossible for trucks to move in and out of his business. Cohee's business and the beef plant are on Shank Road on the eastern edge of the city.

Gustavo Dallarda, Caltrans' project manager for the Highway 111 bypass project, said Cohee has been notified by the state that his business could be bought out.

Dallarda said the state could know by mid-2002 which of the three routes will be chosen. If a decision is made by then, he said, the state will start working toward buying out the businesses that would be affected, including La Bolsa.

The state likely would not start work on the bypass until 2005 and the rerouted Highway 111 would be ready for use in 2007.

The Brawley City Council has said it prefers the Fredricks alternative for the bypass. Dallarda said whether that option is selected depends on environmental reports now being reviewed.

When asked if the bypass and the chance of being bought out would have any effect on his lawsuit, Cohee said it will not.

"I can't sit here and take someone's word," Cohee said this morning.

He said if the Fredricks alternative is selected, it still could be three years before the state takes any action to buy out his business.

Cohee said he does not think his business could survive that long. The beef plant is expected to be ready for operation by October.

He added if another route is selected, the state will not buy out his business. He said he cannot wait to see what decision is made.

Cohee filed his lawsuit against the project after the Brawley City Council voted to deny an appeal he filed against a permit awarded for the building of the beef plant by the Brawley Planning Commission.

Cohee has said that the plant will create 600 jobs will bring an increase in the traffic on Shank, which will prevent the operation of his business.

In his lawsuit, Cohee states traffic studies have not adequately addressed the need for improvements on Shank.

Such traffic studies state the number of jobs created by the beef plant will not necessitate improvements to Shank.

However, further growth in the area brought about by the city's recent annexation of property near Shank could cause a need for road improvements.

Cohee has said he is not against the beef plant. He said he just wants his traffic concerns addressed for the preservation of his business.

City officials said they think the traffic studies were adequate and ruled the beef plant project should move forward.

The plant, which is owned and would be operated by B.P. Ventures, is under construction. Beef plant officials have said the facility must open in October. They have said delays could be damaging to the plant.

Friday's hearing will involve a legal action taken by B.P. Ventures to bring a quick end to Cohee's lawsuit.

The hearing will determine whether Cohee failed to name B.P. Ventures as a defendant in his lawsuit within the statute of limitations. In his initial court filings he did not name B.P. Ventures as a defendant.

If the court rules against B.P. Ventures, the lawsuit will move toward a hearing to determine the merits of Cohee's case.

Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.

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