I’ve never been to law school. I thought about it, just before I finished my bachelor’s degree, but the prospect of three more years of academia seemed oppressive at the time, so I decided to go into journalism — where the big bucks are made.
Consequently, I don’t understand much about the legalities of things such as eminent domain. I can see that private property may sometimes be condemned to construct a facility intended for the public good.
The interstate highway system, for instance, created a means of traveling across this large country — east to west, north to south, Atlantic to Pacific, Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes. Reservoirs provide needed water resources for citizens and businesses. Military installations throughout America offer us the security of national defense.
I don’t know the legal issues behind the way the government went about securing the necessary parcels of real estate to build those facilities for the common good. But I do understand the difference between public good and private gain. And that’s where legal issues get mired in the bog of politics and business gone berserk.
I can comprehend that a private business has the right to purchase property from individuals who are willing to sell in order to build big box stores, a powerline, or a railroad that links a private industry to a public railway.
But when the government, through the process of eminent domain, forces a landowner who prefers to keep his land to cede that property to a private company — for the good of that private company — seems contrary to concept of individual property rights.
It does happen. It’s happening now in Medina County, Texas, where a private company, in order to run a railway spur from a quarry to the Union Pacific rail line, is asking the court to condemn property of individuals who prefer not to sell. One government agency has already declared the proposed rail line a “common carrier,” although no carrier other than the private company, Vulcan Materials, of Birmingham, Ala., is likely to use the rail. What business would any other entity have to run up to a quarry?
A spokesman for Southwest Gulf Railroad (SGRR), the carrier that will use the rail line, says the company has already purchased nearly 90 percent of the 20 properties along the proposed spur.
But what about those who prefer to keep their farms intact, those who would like to maintain the agricultural, recreation, or aesthetic values of their land? Do their rights not matter?
Eminent domain can be a vital tool to allow government to provide for the common good. But to allow a private company to grab land for its own benefit is nothing more than common greed.