Utility district withdraws effort to confiscate private land from influential Williamson Co family

By: - January 4, 2022 5:00 am

A small water utility company has stood down from its legal fight to seize private property belonging to a prominent Williamson County family who waged a fierce public campaign against the plans to install large tanks holding millions of gallons of water on their land.

The Milcrofton Utility District last week withdrew its petition to confiscate land owned by Marianne Menefee Byrd and her husband, Andrew, through condemnation. A settlement agreement between the two parties, filed in Williamson County Circuit Court, is awaiting a judge’s signature, according to Bob Martineau, who led the couple’s public relations campaign.

The dispute pitted the wealthy and influential couple, with the resources to engage in a sustained legal and public fight, against a utility district with broad power to seize private lands under the state’s eminent domain law. The law generally favors public entities who can make the case the property is necessary for the public good.

Marianne Menefee Byrd and her husband, Andrew Byrd, on their Holly Tree Gap property in November, 2021. Photo: John Partipilo

Milcrofton officials had hoped to install two 2-million-gallon water tanks onto a hilltop on the Byrd’s property on Holly Tree Gap Road, a bucolic stretch in a largely underdeveloped part of Williamson County.

The district provides water to about 30,000 residents in the rapidly developing southeastern quadrant of the county. Utility district officials said customers in subdivisions like Avalon, King’s Chapel and Falls Grove, are utilizing increasing amounts of water, especially for irrigation. They said they were looking out for their customers, while the Byrds were looking out only for themselves.

The property has been owned for two generations by the Menefee family, who have served as philanthropists and board members of Middle Tennessee institutions such as the Iroquois Steeplechase horse race as well as area hospitals and nonprofits. Before Milcrofton took them to court, the Byrds refused to sell the land citing their rights as landowners to use and preserve their property.

The land sought by the district sits next the remnants of a historic 18th century corridor used by early settlers and Civil War soldiers, a location that prompted the Heritage Foundation of Williamson County to weigh in with a request that the utility district to reverse its decision.

A change.org petition opposing the water tanks that was circulated among Williamson County residents gathered more than 2,500 signatures.

It is unknown whether Milcrofton will pursue other local property for the location of water tanks. An attorney for the utility company did not respond to emailed questions.

 

 

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Anita Wadhwani
Anita Wadhwani

Anita Wadhwani is a senior reporter for the Tennessee Lookout. The Tennessee AP Broadcasters and Media (TAPME) named her Journalist of the Year in 2019 as well as giving her the Malcolm Law Award for Investigative Journalism. Wadhwani is formerly an investigative reporter with The Tennessean who focused on the impact of public policies on the people and places across Tennessee. She is a graduate of Columbia University in New York and the University of California at Berkeley School of Journalism. Wadhwani lives in Nashville with her partner and two children.

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