The question about whether Garrett County will use its power of eminent domain to seize private property if a citizen refuses to grant an easement to a wind turbine company is purely a hypothetical one, according to the Garrett County commissioners. The officials indicated on Tuesday that they have no desire to use that power anytime in the near future.
“You can never say never, but you can say that it’s not on the horizon,” said commission board chair Denny Glotfelty during a public discussion about eminent domain. “We preserve personal property. That’s what we stand for. So we’re not going to turn around and take that right away.”
On hand to hear the commissioners’ comments were several local residents who are opposed to industrial wind turbines being constructed on private and public lands in the county, including John Bambacus.
The former state senator posed the eminent domain question in a letter to county administrator Monty Pagenhardt and county attorney Mike Getty and which was published in local newspapers.
Bambacus asked if the county would unlawfully seize property if a turbine company needed a right of way for cable crossings, access roads, etc.
Pagenhardt and Getty responded, in part, in a letter published last week with, “The board of county commissioners will not ‘unlawfully’ seize private property – period.”
Pagenhardt and Getty also noted that a June 2005 Supreme Court decision removed the traditional limits that have existed on the use of eminent domain. As a result, local governments can use that power, if they choose, for nontraditional purposes, including economic development.”
“Philosophically, I’m opposed to the use of eminent domain,” Commissioner Ernie Gregg said at Tuesday’s meeting.
He added that there would have to be very stringent and compelling reasons to use it.
“Certainly, this is not one of them,” Gregg said about wind turbines. “And I think it’s a hypothetical, what-if question. What if the sky falls? What if the world ends?”
He added that he did not know where the idea of eminent domain use for wind turbines came about, but it did not come from the commissioners’ office.
“We have supported the property rights of the property owners in Garrett County, and we will continue to do that,” Commissioner Fred Holliday said. “At this time, I don’t see anything in the near future that’s going to require eminent domain for private industry. There’s no reason to do it. I’m not going to say never, because who knows what’s going to happen down the road.”
Bambacus explained at the meeting why he raised the questions. He told the commissioners that he has done a lot of reading about property rights and is well aware of their position on the issue.
“But in my reading, I’ve also come across the whole notion of eminent domain, which, of course, is incompatible with private property rights,” Bambacus said.
With further research, he found that a previous board of commissioners had passed a resolution on Aug. 2, 2005, protecting the private property rights of Garrett County residents.
Bambacus said he certainly agreed with that idea.
“But this is a very powerful resolution,” Bambacus said. “It’s one of the most unequivocal resolutions I’ve ever read.”
He added, however, that a comment at the end of the resolution states that the commissioners want to stick with the original intent of the “founding fathers.”
“That is a very tough comment,” Bambacus said, noting that it was based on the aforementioned Supreme Court decision.
“Of course, most of us were outraged with that decision,” Bambacus said.
He thanked the commissioners for the resolution.
“You leave no question whatsoever, in my mind, when you mention the original intent of the framers of the Constitution of the United States, that I can’t see any reason for eminent domain being used,” Bambacus said.
8 May 2008
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