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June 18, 2014

Border dispute settled: Adams, Richland twps. boundary unchanged

EBENSBURG — The boundary line separating Richland and Adams townships will remain unchanged.

The decision comes following years of dispute and three hearings with testimony from 25 people.

“We determine that the boundary line between Adams Township and Richland Township shall be located at its current location as reflected on the Cambria County tax assessment/GIS records,” was the recommendation of a panel of three that has been handling the case for more than a year.

Those three – attorney Calvin Webb, engineer Richard Genday and William Hudak – made the recommendation to Cambria County Judge David Tulowitzki, who entered an order settling the long-running dispute.

The decision was welcomed by Richland Township, township solicitor Gary Costlow said.

“That was Richland’s position all along,” he said.

The difference between the long-accepted line and the one determined by Sidman surveyor Fred Brown shows little difference, Costlow said.

“My guess is the residents of both townships will be glad,” he said. “I did not hear anyone say they wanted changed.”

Adams Township Supervisor Chairman Dennis Richards was disappointed by the decision.

“I’m not happy with it. If they say it should stay where it is, that’s not the proper line,” he said.

Adams Township solicitor William Barbin said the board has 30 days to file an appeal, something he will discuss with them.

The line has been in question for years, with recent arguments dating back a decade or so. It came to the courts in the spring of 2013 when Adams Township filed a civil lawsuit asking the county court to order the line developed in a recent survey to be the “true and lawful boundary.”

That survey cited about a dozen properties being assessed in Richland Township as Adams Township properties.

Instead, the matter was placed in the hands of a board of commissioners, with instructions to determine the specific location of the 1870 boundary line between the two municipalities.

The court-ordered board held three hearings late last year and the final one on April 4. It allowed a number of witnesses to present testimony relevant to the 1870 line.

In the findings of fact, Webb, who served as chairman of the commission and author of the report, noted that Adams Township was created from Richland Township on Jan. 5, 1870. However, the original document establishing the division is missing from the courthouse.

The document could not be located in any other repository of historical documents, including the official records of both townships, the recommendation read.

Barbin said extensive steps were taken to locate the 1870 documents.

“We all looked for it. Both sides and the Cambria County solicitor spent some time looking for it,” he said. “It isn’t there.”

Webb wrote that the private property owners should not be prejudiced by this lack of official records, especially considering Adams Township’s long delay in challenging the currently existing boundary line.

To move the line anywhere else, he said, would be based upon speculation and conjecture.

While real estate taxes are lower in Adams Township, some Richland residents were concerned that a change would force their children to switch to the Forest Hills School District.

Kathy Mellott covers the Cambria County Courthouse for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/kathy mellotttd.

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