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Property rights versus the common good  

“Farmers have a right to do what they want on their own land.”

It is a statement we have heard numerous times from those seeking to profit from the placement of wind turbines in Ellis County. It was stated to me personally by Lance Russell as the reason he got involved with zoning in Ellis County, no doubt parroting the views of his step-father, Harold Kraus, and it has been stated publicly by Gene Bittel, current chair of our zoning board, and by Charlie Rohr, another zoning board member.

Regardless of any merits or pitfalls of wind energy, I would point out that there are many legal limitations to what people can and cannot do on their own land – farmland or otherwise – even without zoning. You cannot hunt wild game out of season, or without a license, simply because it happens to occur on your property. You cannot divert water courses or damn up streams without obtaining special permits from the appropriate authorities. You cannot willfully contaminate ground water with toxic substances. And you cannot cultivate marijuana or construct a still to produce your own whisky.

These laws were enacted to preserve the environment, conserve society’s public resources, and protect against perceived human health and safety hazards. They exist because many activities cause impacts far beyond the actual property on which they occur. The same is true for wind turbines. Those demanding to do whatever they want on their own land essentially seek to ignore the common good and the interests of society in pursuit of their own personal gain.

When we introduce county-wide zoning to the equation, we add a layer of complexity. We further diminish individual property rights in order to give local government more control over the nature of property use. Zoning becomes increasingly necessary as communities grow because the potential for conflicts over land use increases with population density and development. But in return, zoning provides some guarantee about what is reasonable to expect from one’s neighbors. You lose freedom as a property owner, but you gain rights as a neighbor. As previously pointed out by Mr. Schmeidler, without this give-and-take, zoning law would not be constitutional.

Thus it is exceedingly remarkable that members of any zoning board would espouse the idea that property owners should be able to do whatever they please on their own land. It belies a complete ignorance of the very fundamental principles of zoning. It is therefore not surprising that these same people should approve a conditional use permit for a communications tower that is unfairly rigged to deny neighbors any recourse to object – against the very spirit of zoning law.

I find it ironic that those responsible for zoning Ellis County did so with the intent of protecting wind developers (and themselves) from liability, confident in their ability to manipulate the conditional use permit in their favor, only to be foiled by the protest petition that zoning law provides to protect the rights of neighbors. With the cell tower CUP, these same zoning board members are testing the waters for yet another way to corrupt due process and zone all their wind towers on tiny postage stamps of land that would, in effect, be ‘neighbor-free’. In approving this CUP, two of our County Commissioners have not only revealed their complicity in this corruption, but have thumbed their noses at the very rules they themselves instituted and exposed Ellis County to a costly law suit it cannot possibly win.

Surely these are reasons enough for all citizens of Ellis County to rise up, pack these public meetings, expose this corruption to public embarassment, and invest in the processes necessary to remove these puppets of private interest and replace them with responsible representatives of the people.

Posted by J.P. Michaud

ECEAC: Ellis County Environmental Awareness Coalition

15 December 2007

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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