Thanks to Mr. Donald McCaig and Mr. Roy Robertson Jr. for pointing out the inconsistency of the current members of the Highland County Board of Supervisors on the subject of property rights. Clearly, these board members are in favor of property rights except when they are opposed to property rights.
Property owners in Highland County, particularly those that will cast a vote in the election of Nov. 6 should take note of the fact that this board of supervisors has been discussing whether eminent domain could be used to overrule restrictions placed on land in conservation easements. The position seems to be that the government should have the power to invalidate the restrictions that landowners may place on their land when they decide to use such easements.
Most folks are probably aware of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that allowed the taking, under eminent domain, of private property which could then be turned over to private developers so that this land could be used for purposes more in the public interest. Governments at various levels have been considering ways to limit such use of eminent domain. One might think that supervisors in a property rights county such as Highland would consider doing the same. On the contrary, these board members seem to be looking for new ways to use eminent domain to limit the property rights of landowners, in particular, their right to use conservation easements to preserve their property for their children, grandchildren, and so on. Precisely what Mr. McBride has claimed is his purpose in wanting to install an industrial wind power project on his land in Highland County. These same supervisors have shown a willingness to ignore or change every rule to grant him his wish. They have further spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to defend their actions in this regard.
Not so long ago we heard of the possible use of eminent domain to allow the construction of power lines for a proposed industrial wind facility in Pendleton County, W.Va., our neighbor to the north. Citizens there were immediately and visibly up in arms about such a possibility, especially since it was the result of a secret arrangement between the wind power company and the county commissioners. When confronted, those commissioners made a hasty retreat.
Eminent domain, although sometimes necessary, is the ultimate violation of private property rights. It is the government’s assertion of its right to take property for the best interests of the public. As such, it should be used only as a last resort.
Could your land be taken for the construction of transmission lines for electric power? Forty-two counties in neighboring West Virginia have just found out that the federal government has given itself the power to do just that in the event that the state’s Public Service Commission fails to grant approval to proposed power line projects within one year. There is no mention at all that the PSC might retain the right to deny such projects.
We need supervisors who will fight to ensure that eminent domain is used only as a last resort and who will not look for ways to expand its use to take away the legitimate rights of landowners. If your land is taken for power line construction, you will be paid but will that payment cover the loss of value if your farm is split by such construction? This is an especially important question if you, unlike your neighbor, do not own ridge top property that you would like to develop.
Please think about this on Nov. 6.
Rich Holman Monterey, Va.
25 October 2007
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