Eminent Domain

This Land Is My Land, This Land Is Also My Land

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We're from Ioway, Ioway; State of all the land, Joy on every hand;

Say you're the city of Ames. (Don't you feel wholesome and corn-fed?) And you want to put up a new water treatment plant just inside city limits. The owners of that land refuse to sell. Sounds like a job for eminent domain, right?

Not quite. The land is owned by the Department of Agriculture (USDA), which isn't allowed to sell the land. But all is not lost. Someone has figured out a way around this sticky problem. It's called substitute condemnation. You go after privately-owned farms in the area—although weirdly, outside the city—take those instead, and then swap their land for the USDA's land.

Ta da! Everybody wins! Oh no wait. That's completely untrue.

Last April, [Mona Kilborn, whose family has owned Griffith farm outside Ames for more than 100 years] received a letter from the city of Ames saying a portion of her family's 80-acre century farm "may be potentially impacted" by the construction of a $50 million water treatment plant….

When Kilborn objected, she said a city employee told her the transaction was similar to a simple eminent domain deal involving new roads and electric lines.

Sitting in her kitchen, with dozens of letters and documents spread out on the kitchen table, Kilborn explains why it isn't.

"If the farm were needed for the treatment facility," she says, "that would be a direct sale and I could at least understand, but this seems very underhanded. I was shocked Ames could come outside city limits and condemn us out in the county. It seems like a good way to steal someone else's land.

Iowa's congressional delegation is trying to change the rules so that the city can buy the USDA land directly, leaving Kilborn and other private property holders out of it. All parties agree this would be a better solution. 

FYI: Iowa was actually part of the Kelo backlash. After the pro-eminent domain Supreme Court decision, the state added rules to make it harder to seize property in the name of economic development. But since this is a classic case of taking the land for public use, the new rules don't help much. 

Via tipster king Mark Lambert.

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  1. whose family has owned rented Griffith farm outside Ames for more than 100 years

    fixed.

  2. Say you’re the city of Ames. (Don’t you feel wholesome and corn-fed holed?)

  3. Not sure how a city can sieze land outside of the city’s jurisdiction? Is this common, or just a peculiarity of Iowa law?

    1. My question exactly.

    2. It has to do with gay marriage, the governor’s moostache, and animal husbandry. It’s a slippery slope on the great plains.

      1. Look at the soil!!!

  4. It seems like a good way to steal someone else’s land.

    Now you’re catching on!

  5. Government, so big that it’s no longer satisfied taking land from private owners, it must take land from different versions of itself, adding in stolen private land only as a sweetner.

  6. Alright, a quick Google shows that the rule used to be that a city could not exercise eminent domain outside of city limits. (Mack v. Town of Craig, Colorado, 1920). The court relied on the statute on the books at the time, so presumably a state could allow cities to condemn outside their limits.

  7. See, Ms. Kilborn, your land is essentially the “Paypal” of eminent domain transactions! You should be happy with your new status!

  8. But since this is a classic case of taking the land for public use, the new rules don’t help much.

    Is the land being taken for public use? Those farms aren’t being condemned to build a sewer plant on. They are being condemned to induce a third party to transfer land to the City.

    Imagine the third party is a private owner, and see if this still works for you. The third party is, say a farmer, and agrees to transfer a parcel he owns to the city if the city will condemn his neighbor’s land and give it to him.

    Public use? I don’t see it.

    1. The end justifies the means Mr. Dean; it’s the sewer plant (a public works project) that is the most important thing here. Never mind such trivialities and technicalities of parcel ownership at any one time.

      It’s the six degrees of separation of private land ownership to the government: ALL STUFF BELONGS TO US EVENTUALLY.

      1. And may I also remind the readers that poor Suzette Kelo’s stolen land (yeah yeah I know, she was given “just compensation” at “fair market value”) was never utilized for that stupid pharmacy.

    2. Public use? I don’t see it.

      That’s because you didn’t read the Kelo decision. “Public Use” was reinterpreted to be “Public Purpose”.

    3. The end recipient of the land is the USDA, so it still is a public use (it’s not being given to a private party). Still pretty fucked up and convoluted.

  9. This land theft is deplorable.

    1. But oh-so necessary.

  10. At least for once, it’s for a bona fide public use, and not for some politician’s buddy’s development/project.
    Hooray?

    1. Except they probably don’t really need a new $50 million dollar water treatment plant. Tons on cities have gotten into trouble by borrowing money to build these white elephants.

    2. Is USDA a proper federal function?

  11. When does Ames sue Ms. Kilborn for defamation to restrain her free speech?

    When Kilborn objected, she said a city employee told her the transaction was similar to a simple eminent domain deal involving new roads and electric lines.

    Funny, the article didn’t mention Ms. Kilborn throttling the bureaucrat. I guess that part was obvious and deemed unimportant.

  12. The land is owned by the Department of Agriculture (USDA), which isn’t allowed to sell the land

    so? since when does eminent domain require a willing seller?

    1. Supremacy clause

    2. Supremacy clause. Cities can’t win against the Feds.

      Duke University used this when Chapel Hill wanted to eminent domain part of Duke Forest for a new landfill about ten years back. Chapel Hill investigated a bunch of sites, but clearly favored the Duke Forest parcel because there weren’t voters. Duke said that they didn’t like it, but of course that didn’t matter. So Duke waited until the very last Town Council meeting where the Town Council was about to finalize the decision, then informed the Town Council that that precise parcel of land had just been given as an easement to NASA for research for twenty years. Oops, Chapel Hill had to start all back over with surveying.

      1. and thus began the greatest rivalry in college basketball.

    3. What I don’t get is, USDA is not willing, or is it USDA can’t sell the land? If so, why is presumably a trade of equivalent value OK? USDA is giving up that land, right?
      USDA can’t sell, but it can swap?
      So the hooker isn’t breaking the law if instead of a blow job for money, she trades a blow job for my 91 Hyundai (I don’t expect a GOOD blow job)????

      1. If all the the USDA needs is a swap, why not just buy some available land from willing sellers? There must be some on on the market.

  13. Also, Katherine, you filling in for Balko? My groinal region is somewhat sore after having read this….:(

  14. Someone has figured out a way around this sticky problem. It’s called substitute condemnation. You go after privately-owned farms in the area?although weirdly, outside the city?take those instead, and then swap their land for the USDA’s land.

    Somewhere else, nitwit Tony was arguing that, without government’s regulatory powers, corporations would run rampant making everybody’s life miserable…

    “Because that is what I do”, said the Scorpion, while he and the frog were drowning.

    “Because that is what the State does: it steals, it kills, it rapes.”

    1. At least it rapes what it kills. Like STEVE SMITH.

  15. Huh? WTF???

  16. Every time an unjust eminent domain taking occurs, a libertarian angel gets its wings.

    1. Every time an unjust eminent domain taking occurs, a libertarian angel butterfly gets its wings ripped off.

      FIFY

      1. Every time an unjust eminent domain taking occurs, a libertarian lobster girl puts her clothes back on.

  17. How could you possibly expect some dumb hick who hasn’t even got a master’s degree in Public Administration to be able to judge the most appropriate use of a piece of land?

    1. Fucking farming, how does that work?

    2. Animal Farm
      All the animals are equal, but the government pigs are more equal…

      1. Not as equal as me.

  18. I guess if Ms. Kilborn doesn’t sit still for this they’ll work up a Number Six on her, just with a SWAT team instead of cowboys.

  19. Land of the free, home of the brave. Or is it, “With liberty and justice for all”? How anyone can recite these sorts of words without choking on the black, bitter sarcasm is beyond me.

  20. I’m sorry, why does the USDA own this land? I checked the article but there was no mention for what the land was currently being used for.

    1. Re: Dave T,

      I checked the article but there was no mention for what the land was currently being used for.

      What difference would it make? It’s ‘public’ land – PUBLIC! Means, it’s ‘ours’… or something.

    2. It was the old site for the National Animal Disease Center, USDA moved out to current site 20 or 30 yrs ago.

  21. What they need to do is “work up a number six on em”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-UM9GjnTFIM

    1. Doh! Enjoy Every Sammich already suggested the number six.

  22. I’m cool with this. What’s your fucking problem, Christ-fags?

  23. substitute condemnation — isn’t that a country where they use non-mylar balloons for birth control?

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