Eminent domain for a Fortune 100 company in western New York?

shaking-house-w_money.gifChemung, N.Y. lies on the southern border of the state. The town government has been approached by a Fortune 100 company, which would like to build a warehouse/distribution facility. The town of Chemung wants 120 acres for the project; it owns 30 of those acres and had, until last year, a purchase option to buy the rest of the land.

Those 90 acres comprise a potato farm, whose owners are not going to sell to the town. Jeffrey Johnson, one of the owners, stated plainly:

“We gave them a five-year option, but after five years, life goes on. I have nothing personal against the county executive, but business is business. They had an option, let it expire and now the land is not on the market for sale.”

The project for this company would cost the town $75 million and the company is promising 700 jobs. Apparently, this is too good a deal to pass up. A hearing is scheduled for next Tuesday, March 4, and would be the first step in the eminent domain process should the “negotiations” with the town fail. (One has to wonder about whether there’s actual negotiating when the local government dangles eminent domain over the head of property owners.)

The County Attorney Bryan Maggs was quite clear and specific about the purposes of eminent domain, telling WETM-TV:

“Essentially the whole theory behind eminent domain is the government and people have a need for certain types of things, so the government is entitled to acquire property that benefits the public….”

Some of the neighbors, i.e. “the people”, are not so sure their needs are the same ones that the local government thinks they have. One of the neighbors also told WETM that he thought the county was “becoming a dictatorship.”

There should be updates on this story next week after Tuesday’s hearing.