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[at-l] Eminent Domain
To those who think the Government is fair - or even follows its own rules -
What follows is part of a paper that was written for a grad school
course in Organizational Communications. It's a true story.
While I was hiking the Appalachian Trail in 1992 my hiking partner
was physically injured. In the attempt to get my partner into town
I asked a farmer at Devil Fork Gap in Tennessee if we could use his
phone to call for help. In the course of conversation he expressed a
number of concerns about the proximity of the Appalachian Trail to
his farm - including the fact that he had lost several valuable dogs
because they had followed hikers down the road.
As the conversation evolved, we finally got down to the real cause
for his antagonism toward the Appalachian Trail and toward hikers.
And the root cause was the fact that the Forest Service and the
Appalachian Trail Conference (ATC) had, in his view, acted in bad
faith. The root of the problem was the ATC policy of what's called
"viewshed protection". This translates to mean that the ATC considers
it their mandate to acquire and include in the Trail corridor (and thus
to control) all land which can be seen from the Appalachian Trail.
The farmer had previously ceded control of the Trail corridor to
the ATC and had no complaints about the process or the results.
But several years later, the ATC and the Forest Service had
decided that they wanted control of another 200 acres of his
property because it was what they considered "viewshed".
After several months of negotiations, all parties had reached
what was an amicable agreement. At that point the ATC and
the Forest Service went back to Washington to get approval for
the agreement, with the verbal promise that the agreement
would be closed within two weeks. Like most people, the farmer
figured that government wheels grind slowly, so after six months
he contacted the ATC. At that time he was told that the people he
had been dealing with were no longer there and that the agreement
had been canceled by the people who had taken their place. He was
also told that since he had refused negotiations, eminent domain
proceedings were soon to be filed against his property.
After nearly a year of threats and intermittent legal action, the
ATC and the Forest Service finally went back to Tennessee to
negotiate with him again. Again they reached an agreement and
again they went back to Washington to confirm the agreement.
And again he heard nothing for six months - at which time he was
again informed that since he had refused to negotiate, eminent
domain proceedings were to be filed against his property.
It was at this point in time that I walked up to his door and asked
for help. The amazing part is that he gave it - reluctantly at first,
but still the rural tradition that he had lived with demanded that he
help those in need, so give he did.
As his story developed, he found that I was also incensed by the
apparent callousness of the government negotiators. My emotions
were probably somewhat influenced by the fact that earlier that
day I had passed a farm that had been driven out of business for
the same reasons by these same government agencies. The owners
of that farm had been forced out of the home in which they had lived
and raised their children and grandchildren for the past 80 years.
Their ancestors had farmed that land for over 200 years.
The reason for these attempts to close down rural farms was, to
quote an ATC representative with whom I talked later, to "protect
the viewshed of the Appalachian Trail corridor for the hikers". And
the reason for the "negotiation" tactics was, in part, to wear down
the resistance of the local people in order to acquire the land as cheaply
as possible. The main reason for the tactics, however, was because
the personnel involved in the negotiations was constantly changing and
with each change of personnel, some level of skill, knowledge and
communication was lost.
I made an effort to talk to both sides of these negotiations and in both
cases there was a belief that their case was absolutely right and that
the other side was their enemy.
The farmer believed that he and his family had the right to control their
own land and that the ATC and Forest Service were abusive and unfair.
His was a "soft" negotiating style.
The ATC personnel believed that their goal of controlling the "viewshed"
was the only valid consideration. They were absolutely willing to bludgeon
the farmer into cooperation on their terms with their "hard" negotiating style.
Personal feelings aside, this is a perfect example of 1/ the wrong way
to negotiate and 2/ the advantage gained by those who use "hard"
negotiating styles. The ATC was perfectly willing to trade the entire
relationship in order to maximize the "substance" of their position.
The losers in this negotiation were the hikers - the very people that the
ATC is supposed to serve. The local people (not just that one farmer)
became antagonistic to those who were the "visible" manifestation of
the ATC - the hikers. That area of the Appalachian Trail has become
known to hikers as the DMZ. In 1991 a trail shelter was burned and at
least once fish hooks were strung at eye level across the trail. These
are isolated incidents, but they give some indication of the depth of
emotion generated by this kind of "negotiation".
I have a particular interest in land acquisition negotiation matters
since I foresee a time in the near future when I will be involved in
the same kind of negotiations for other trails. These are a particularly
sensitive type of negotiation because acquisition of land for wilderness
trails very often involves farm or ranch land which has been a family
home for 100 or more years. Resolution of the issues involved always
involves dealing with fear, anger, false perceptions, and differences
in goals, language, lifestyle, custom and emotional attachments.
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