Thursday, February 25, 2010

Why I Hate Eminent Domain

Dear all: I actually wrote this--so very nicely, with little attitude--for my alternative weekly's blog. But what I really want to say is fuck these people who have the power to take your land. I know I don't really own land. But in the system we live within, we made these rules. And one of them is that if you buy land, legally, and no one objects, then it is you're fucking land. But since we've moved to Texas and discovered that our land is in the way of a new road people want to build--and don't want to build around us--that's just a fairy tale. The reality is that eminent domain means that anyone who has that term in their pocket can do what they want to your home. And no, they're not going to paint the fences just like you did when they finish.
Anyway, this is the gentlest way I can put about what I think of Eminent Domain, an old English law that should have been put out to pasture long ago. You want a new road? Go the heck around me or pay me enough to buy my land. I don't like them simply having the right to take it and pay me what they want.
And the judgement on my counter offer is coming in tomorrow. The guy in charge of negotiations thinks the county may double it's offer to $5000 if I'm lucky. Hell, that pays for one 20-year-old tree.

When you hear of some city or town needing some land and taking it by eminent domain, you probably don't like it. No one likes it. But it's not until it's got you by your own throat that you can really grasp what it means, what loss will be incurred.

The proposed SW 121, Fort Worth's little piece of the Trans Texas Corridor, has been approved. Land has been bought or taken. Deals have been struck with the railroad for an overpass.
Down here in Johnson, they're calling it the Cleburne Toll Road. It's the same road, only the Johnson County part.

Three years ago or so, I was told that a sliver of my front yard would be an entry ramp for the southbound side. The state took about 19 feet by 200 feet and there wasn't much I could do about it.

Two years ago the state had new stakes put into my land that would have taken about half of my acre-and-a-half. My kids pulled them out and that was that. Except that my kids were traumatized that someone could take our land like that.

Last year the state came back and said they were expanding the taking to 30 feet by 300 feet, effectively costing us our front yard/driveway/basketball court. They offered something; I added $15,000 on for psychological damages and they gave it to us. I was lucky to get it.

Last month the local water utility came by to say that since the road was taking the land where they ran the county water, they were going to need a 20 foot easement. And an additional 30 foot easement to do the work.

When the guy in charge of the proceedings came out I pointed out that the 20 foot easement would kill six trees that were 100 or more years old. It would also kill 15 foot tall red tips. It would eliminate my carport, force the moving of one of my outbuildings--my office--and put a ditch within 10 feet of my home, a ditch that my little kids, my big kids, me, my dogs, my cats, my goats and my chickens would all fall into.

The additional 30 foot temporary easement--to allow the county to work--would cut my house in half, destroy my 24 X 32 foot metal garage with the deep cement flooring, and take out an additional three 100 foot trees, along with a bridge over our creek and cost us all the privacy we have.

The man was sympathetic, then gave me the county offer of $2,400. And a promise to replace grass. I asked about replacing the 100 year old trees--which go for about $25,000 each--and he suggested saplings. I didn't laugh.

I made a counter offer of $300,000.00. I suggested they pay off the last five years on my house, then find me a new place in my same neighborhood with about an acre and a half, two dozen ancient trees, a creek, a huge new metal garage, 50 fifteen foot tall red tips, two bridges, a chicken coop, a hill, and that was fenced, double fenced, and all recently painted. Then I suggested they pay down that mortgage to the five year mark--which I've reached after just 8 years by working about a million jobs and scrimping horribly--and then pay me $25 grand to move; $15 grand to paint the fences; and $50 grand for my trouble.

Because they are costing me my home. Even if they gave me what I asked, it wouldn't be fair. This was the home my kids have lived in since we left New York. This was supposed to be the home they could raise their kids in, if they wanted. But if the road people and the water people--and in the future the electric people and the gas people--can all just take pieces till there is nothing left, then it's not a home anymore, is it?

Texas is supposed to be the state with the best land-ownership rights in the country. Well, I'm not seeing that. Seems I'm just fighting people who want this place but don't want to replace it, don't want to trade it, don't want to buy it. They just want to take it piece by piece, paying for it at bottom dollar, not at real value. Real value is as a home. As a place full of joy and memories and memories we have not even made yet. Not as a place with everybody's little red-painted sticks all over the place, reminding us that we have no value; we're just tending it till they take what they want.

And that's why I hate eminent domain.


The Grudge said...

Damn it all. This sounds terrible! You need to fight. Their terms are unconscionable to put it nicely. As you said, you worked your ass off to get a chance of what is most peoples dreams of owning a house and land. Texas government wants it and will take it just because it says so. Fucking bastards. I wish you and your family the best.

I need a drink.

Gritter said...

Hell, let's all drink. "Death to the tyrants". Dammit man, will nothing short of a general revolution stop the madness?