By FRANK PRIESTLEY
For the Capital Press
Two bills currently under consideration by the Idaho Legislature place new restrictions on the use of eminent domain and protect private property from condemnation for unjustified purposes.
House Bill 192, sponsored by Rep. Jim Guthrie, R-McCammon, would ban the use of eminent domain for the taking of private property for recreational purposes. This bill currently has relevance due to an effort by a nonprofit organization to use eminent domain to condemn private property along the Portneuf River in Bannock County in order to build a cycling and walking path.
House Bill 189, sponsored by Rep. Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, would ban entities other than public utilities, cooperatives or municipalities, from using eminent domain to condemn private property when installing electricity transmission lines without first demonstrating that use of eminent domain directly serves the interests of Idaho residents. This bill is aimed at merchant, or private, transmission lines that pass through Idaho without providing any service to Idaho consumers.
Both of these bills address important matters of public policy for Idaho. Employing eminent domain, the taking of private property, for the public good is sometimes necessary. Examples include schools, fire stations, energy transmission and many other purposes. However, if acceptable uses of eminent domain are not explicitly spelled out by law, it can become a disastrous intrusion on the rights of private property owners.
The effort to use eminent domain to take private property along the Portneuf River to create a cycling and walking path is an arrogant, ham-fisted scheme. If the people who live along the river want to sell their land so that it can be turned into a recreational path, so be it. No one can object to that and there is no argument that a greenbelt wouldn't be beneficial to Pocatello.
However, several landowners along the Portneuf don't want to sell. They don't want a path through their backyards that could be occupied at any time of the day or night. That's their right and it should be respected.
Regarding transmission lines and eminent domain, common sense seems to indicate that the best route is across public land rather than developed farms. Transmission lines can block irrigation delivery systems, create hazardous conditions for livestock and present many other problems.
However, utilities sometimes turn to the eminent domain option because of the red tape encountered in acquiring permits to cross public land. That's a sad commentary on our society when it's easier to take someone's private property than it is to deal with the federal government.
Private property rights are vital and are among the civil liberties that separate our nation from many Third World countries. Private property rights are fundamental to our society. Property that is defined and protected by law allows us to establish businesses and create commerce. If governments or private entities are allowed to strip private property rights away for dubious purposes, who is to say what might happen next?
Frank Priestley is president of the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation.