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Re[2]: [at-l] Eminent domain

______________________________ Reply Separator _________________________________
Subject: RE: [at-l] Eminent domain
Author:  hikenet@interactive.net (Thomas Caggiano) at ima
Date:    8/21/99 3:56 PM

     Bear Bells wrote:
I can't put a value on "priceless" anymore then one can put a value to your 
sick parent or a child dying of cancer. They are priceless as was that view.
     Sloetoe pipes in with:
     Sometimes you only need to price the alternative.
     OK, you've got your house on the river, all alone on the river 
     bank. You're on the opposite side of the river from town, and have 
     the whole thing to yourself.
     A letter arrives in the mail informing you that the government 
     wishes to build a bridge to connect to your side, and they are 
     condemning your property through eminent domain.(Just so it's not 
     an issue, they even appraise the property as if the bridge access 
     were already available which would raise the price.) They give you 
     papers to sign and a check for the appraised value. One year later, 
     you arrive home to find your house on fire. Your children are 
     upstairs. You run in the back door and phone the firemen.
     Scenario One: One year ago, you had signed the papers, took the 
     money, and bought the property next door to the bridge landing, and 
     rebuilt your house and your life. The firemen scream their trucks 
     over the new bridge, save the kids, save the house, you're grateful 
     for the bridge the firemen used.
     Scenario Two: One year ago, you *didn't* sign zee papers, you all 
     went to court, and that's where you'd been when you arrived home to 
     find the house on fire. The firemen remind you there is no way for 
     them to get across the river, there's nothing they can do. The fire 
     consumes all.
     Seems pretty easy to say "Scenario One sounds better!" But what if 
     the property owner fighting the bridge *wasn't* you, but your next 
     door neighbor? If s/he sells for the bridge, you'll be afforded 
     protection by the now-available fire department; if not, all's lost 
     to the fire. Where do your neighbor's rights end, and others' 
     Think about it. The simplest term for what we're hashing about here 
     is a "public good" and the simplest definition is that a public 
     good is something which, if provided for one, may be provided for 
     all (at no extra cost). National defense, education, town squares, 
     highways, and yes, recreation resources like our own AT, are 
     different examples of "public goods." For Saddleback, the 
     individual's reward for experiencing the hike over is certainly 
     much less than the previous example's homeowner with the burning 
     home. However, the number of persons potentially benefiting is 
     increased by 235,000,000 or so. Heady numbers. Big benefits.
     Eminent Domain as a subject dances around one simple issue: Do the 
     rights of an individual *always* supercede the rights of society? 
     In a democracy, the answer is "No. We come together as equals to 
     establish a common good, but to respect the individual first and 
     foremost where it does not unavoidably injure that common good." 
     Further, where injury to the common good is eminent, and the 
     society's representatives decide to enact domain over the 
     situation, "fairness" rules in that democracy dictate compensation 
     to the individual if at all possible. For property "takings" like 
     Saddleback, this involves establishing what the property would 
     bring in an independent sale (the appraisal), and providing that 
     value as a measure of compensation to the individual.
     That's all that's going on here, folks. No great plots. No 
     boundless greed of government, but a weighing of individual's and 
     society's harms, by a representative democracy's open process. The 
     same prcess goes on *every time* eminent domain is considered, 
     whether for dams which flood, highways which obliterate, or just 
     trails -- which deny more intensive economic utilization of some 
     piece of property. And before anybody decides they don't like it, 
     remember we *all* benefit. Let's not be bitching about public good 
     resources like recreation/AT/Saddleback, unless we also want to 
     forego fire/police protection, education, interstate highways, the 
     NASA programs that brought so much to backpacking, national 
     defense, etc.
     Thanks for your attention.
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