Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

March 18, 2009

Eminent Domain, Alabama Style

by Stephen Gordon

Speaking of the Cato Institute’s new video telling the story behind Suzette Kelo’s legal fight against the City of New London, I’ve been working on a website for a new grassroots organization in Alabama hoping to promote “the property rights of all Alabamians, regardless of race or financial status.”

In Alabama, it is generally the poorest of our citizens who are victimized and intimidated in similar situations to what happened in New London, CT.  Working with state legislators and the Alabama Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, we have reasonable hopes of being able to make a difference in the lives of people touched by corporate and government land grabs.

Right now, we are highlighting on two cases and working on two distinct pieces of legislation.  One issue deals with the highly publicized (many thanks to Neal Boortz and the Institute for Justice on this one) case of a Wal-Mart landgrab in Alabaster, AL:

In 2003, Alabaster, Alabama, a small bustling community south of Birmingham, garnered national attention through their efforts to seize property for the construction of a Wal-Mart shopping center. Ownership of the property was predominately poor and black. When national attention focused on the private property seizure, other avenues of securing the property for Wal-Mart prevailed. The procedure, while legal, would, by those familiar with the circumstances, deem the chain of events and the ensuing aftermath unethical by all standards. In the video Elizabeth Swain, her daughter, and granddaughter tell the story from the beginning to the end.

Click the link above to watch some touching video regarding the Alabaster issue.

Another issue never hit the national news, but it is just as disturbing.

Evergreen Baptist Church overlooks I-65 between Birmingham and Gardendale, Alabama. The Church was required to surrender its property through eminent domain for road construction. The Church agreed to a property swap with the State Department of Transportation. The Church at its old location was serviced with water, gas and electricity – all modern conveniences. Before construction began on the new Church building, Rev. Smith contacted the Birmingham Water Works to ensure that water would be available. With the Water Works assurance, construction was begun. When construction reached ¾ completion, it was disclosed that the Birmingham Water Works would require $80,000.00 to install a new water main. The Church, consisting of a small congregation, could not afford the demands of the Water Works. Two years have passed and the inequity in the land swap has not been resolved. The Church pleads for a just and appropriate public outcry.

Again, click the link for related video footage.

We’ve got two pieces of proposed legislation and an upcoming press conference dealing with these sorts of issues.  There is also an upcoming Civil Rights Commission Panel which will focus on racial minorities afflicted by these sorts of abuses of power.  The Alabama Advisory Committee is currently chaired by Dr. David Bieto, a name familiar to many libertarians and conservatives out there.

The site is still under construction, but feel free to sign up on our e-mail list if you’d like to keep track of what were are up to.  Also, if anyone wishes to donate some time to help with site graphics, please let me know.

In Alabama, some of us feel that protection from eminent domain abuse should apply as equally to people living below the poverty line and people of color as it does in the more affluent neighborhoods in the state.

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  • http://www.meetup.com/Augusta-libertarian/ Rocky Eades

    Good deal, Stephen. This is a great project. Keep hard at it. Here in Augusta, we had a “strange” eminent domain case last year. The state and local governments “seized” a federal housing project – evicting hundreds of residents – in order to build an expansion to the state medical college. Putting aside the whole question of public housing, etc., the state’s use of eminent domain in this case left a lot of poor people scrambling for someplace else to live.

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  • Mike Armijo

    That is totally cool that you would tackle an issue like this.

    Keep up the good work.

    Mike

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  • http://www.spectraenergywatch.com/blog/ MikeB

    Speaking as someone actually fighting eminent domain in federal court with Houston-based Spectra Energy, I can confirm that it amounts to legal plunder under the badge of government.

    Ultimately, power corrupts; and the power of eminent domain in the hands of government — which is transferred to a business — creates a sense of entitlement; and it creates an atmosphere ripe for abuse.

    As you know, nowadays, eminent domain has less to do with projects for the “public good,” and everything to do with the financial good of publicly held companies.

    In Bedford County, Pennsylvania (about 2 hours from Washington), property owners are being hauled into federal court by Spectra Energy, backed by the power of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

    The “public good” argument is that this is an underground natural gas storage site (bring gas from somewhere else for a fee, store it for a fee, then send it to the northeast via pipelines and charge another fee).

    What goes missing is that the landowners’ property is sitting on top of the gas-rich Marcellus Shale; but they can’t develop that because Spectra Energy wants to use the Oriskany sands layer (which lies just beneath the Marcellus) for its underground gas storage facility.

    This site is said to be “critical,” but Pennsylvania has more underground natural gas storage sites than any other state in the continental US, according to the Dept. of Energy.

    Further, in its most recent motion, Spectra Energy asked that the federal judge exclude evidence that would argue “economic loss to the landowner” for fear that the jury would be “confused, misled and distracted … waste time.” (From p. 7 of the motion: Case 3:08-cv-00154-KRG, Document 59).

    Here is the great conundrum in eminent domain: property owners possess the key asset that companies and government covet — the land. But they are treated as obstacles in this process rather than as key stakeholders.

    For info:
    http://www.spectraenergywatch.com/blog/

  • http://none Jon Frantz

    The State of Illinois is taking 5 acres of wooded property on the fox river from my wife and I, and has offered about 1/2 of what an independent appraiser has appraised it for. And our tax assesment which we are paying taxes on agrees with the independent appraiser. So now we have to get an attorney at our own expense to try and get what the US constitution guarantees us.

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