Campground owner challenging VDOT land condemnation

FRONT ROYAL – Lawyers representing the Virginia Department of Transportation and an 88-year-old woman clashed Friday in a jury trial challenging the amount of money she would receive in an eminent domain case involving a campground she has run for 24 years.

The issue comes down to money. Gloria Marcon, owner of the Gooney Creek Campground at 7122 Stonewall Jackson Highway, says a new bridge over the highway has wrecked her business. An appraiser hired by Marcon’s lawyers told the jury she deserved $197,390 from the state as compensation for the destruction of trees, increased traffic noise, loss of seclusion and some campsites and diminished access caused by the bridge project.

VDOT’s lawyers and appraiser said Marcon is entitled only to $28,500.

Attorneys were preparing for closing arguments late Friday night after more than 12 hours of testimony, much of it from Walter Robinson of Warrenton, the state’s appraiser, and Dennis J. Gruelle of Virginia Beach, who represented Marcon. The day before, the jurors had visited the campground five miles south of Front Royal for a close up look at the bridge and its effect on Marcon’s property.

In a brief interview Friday, Marcon said she was not objecting to the construction of the bridge; she is only challenging what VDOT considers fair compensation for the loss of her property.

“It’s going to be a beautiful bridge,” Marcon said. “It’s wonderful. We needed it, but it’s torn up my business in the process.”

Gooney Creek Campground encompasses about 13 acres. VDOT insists the bridge has not harmed the campground as a business and Marcon should be compensated only for the 1.2 acres the agency took to replace the Gooney Creek Bridge on Stonewall Jackson Highway with a longer and higher structure.

The bridge project cost the campground a line of trees that stood between the highway and the campground. Gruelle testified that, from a scientific perspective, the trees may not have done much to dampen highway noise, but anyone interested in purchasing the campground from Marcon could perceive the issue differently.

Gruelle also contended that completion of the bridge will require campers to drive down a steep slope from Stonewall Jackson Highway and turn down a new road that passes under the bridge before entering the campground. The loss of a highway sign directing campers to Gooney Creek will also hinder camper’s ability to reach the site, Gruelle said.

Mark A. Moorstein, the attorney representing VDOT, sparred earlier in the day with Charles Lollar over the significance of a mistake by agency staff in calculating how much land was taken for the bridge project.

Lollar said the state’s attempts to condemn Marcon’s 1.2 acres deserved to be scrapped as a result of the error.

But Moorstein dismissed the error as minor and inadvertent.

“What’s required is a good faith effort,” Moorstein said in describing how the agency mapped the project.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com