Expansion of eminent domain hits home

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The true foundation of republican government is the equal right of every citizen in his person and property and in their management,” Thomas Jefferson said.

Enbridge is a Canadian energy company located in Calgary. They are Canada’s largest natural gas distributor and own the largest crude oil and hydrocarbon transport system in the world. Part of that transport system literally cuts our state in half and is known as, “Line 61”. This line starts in Superior, WI and goes all the way down to Flanagan, IL. Enbridge has recently announced an expansion of Line 61, which will make it a 30 percent larger than the well-known Keystone XL pipeline. This expansion will increase the amount pumped from 560,000 to 1.2 million barrels per day of tar sands crude in an underground 42-inch diameter pipe. This flows directly under my home’s driveway in Marshfield, WI.

Now Enbridge has proposed a new pipeline, Line 66, that will carry an additional 800,000 barrels per day of tar sands oil, nearly as large as the proposed Keystone pipeline. This new expansion will require the destruction on my home property of a 500x300 foot area of woods, prairie, garden, and orchard. These woods contain 100-year-old oak trees, as well as maple trees my family has used to make maple syrup for 20 years. The prairie that will be destroyed paints a picture of the work and dedication my family has put in to make our home beautiful. And the orchard and gardens are some of my parents’ favorite hobbies, hobbies that they have dedicated significant time and resources too. This expansion would literally blow all of that up. And because of recent changes in eminent domain laws on the federal and state level, Enbridge can do this perfectly legally with minimal payout to my family.

This should alarm you. It should alarm you that in 2005, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in the case of Kelo vs. City of New London that an individual’s land could be seized for private commercial development under the umbrella of eminent domain. Prior to this decision, eminent domain was limited to be the federal or state governments’ right to take an individuals property if it was for “public use” such as building a school. However, with the setting of this new precedent, land can be seized for development by private entities that have plans that are thought to benefit the public good economically. This means that multi-billion dollar corporations have the right to demolish homes and property if the land is determined to be “economically blighted” ie, the project in question will benefit the community economically through increased tax revenue or job creation. The landowner is left to receive “just compensation” at present market value.

There is a tirade of problems with this process. For one, what’s the definition of “economically blighted”? According to Chapter 32 of the Wisconsin Statues, property that has “existence of conditions that endanger life or property by fire or other causes, or any combination of such factors, is detrimental to the public health, safety, or welfare” is blighted. Once the land meets these broad definitions, the property can be condemned and construction is a go. Other than the massive loopholes in this definition, consider the fact that Enbridge literally wrote the law that determines what sort of business can take property. Given that Enbridge is a limited partnership, their business status may or may not have guaranteed the right to take property under the old law. So, like all good $42 billion dollar companies do, they lobbied Wisconsin legislators to write in the 2015 Wisconsin budget that any “business entity” may also acquire personal property. Enbridge is also not afraid to resort to more gangsterish tactics. Consider Hamilton, MI, a town where resistance from citizens was expected. Enbridge donated $44,410 to the local police department, calling into question the objective response of the police officers and the biases present in the donation.

I understand the necessity of government taking land to build schools and libraries. But these are truly public projects that benefit the community in the immediate context and for future generations. This is a project that offers zero permanent economic gains to Marshfield and destroys my family’s property value while spitting in the face of our hard work with “just compensation”. This is a project coordinated by a greed driven $42 billion dollar cooperation that is helped along legislatively by a government that seems to have forgotten the words once spoken above by Thomas Jefferson. This is a project that is a byproduct of a system that is broken and abused by the powerful that wield inordinate amounts of power. This is a project that should never have the means to exist in a society where the government is “of the people, by the people, for the people.”

Nate is a junior majoring in nursing. How do you feel about Nate’s firsthand experience with corporate eminent domain law? Please send all comments to opinion@dailycardinal.com.

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