By Scott Bullock, Institute for Justice
It is ironic that an editorial calling for less heated and “inflammatory” rhetoric about the Fort Trumbull eminent domain controversy accuses the Institute for Justice of waging a “jihad” about eminent-domain abuse. (“Needed: Light, not Heat,” July 17.) That epithet should have no place in a reasonable debate about the use of eminent domain for private economic development. But rationality seems to have gone out the window in New London when it comes to eminent-domain abuse.
Talk to just anyone on the street or look at the Internet, the polls, most editorials or letters to the editor, including those to this newspaper: virtually the entire nation has united around the Fort Trumbull property owners and their quest to keep their homes. But to The Day and leaders of New London Development Corp., the outrage simply has been the result of the public relations “genius” of the Institute for Justice. Nonsense. Yes, we are very good at getting the word out about our cases, but we can't conjure up the nearly universal disdain for the Kelo decision. That's because this is a matter of right and wrong. It is simply wrong to take property for private economic development. A majority of people of this nation get that. It is unfortunate The Day does not.
The Day falsely states that the Supreme Court in Kelo vs. New London did not expand the use of eminent domain. The Court emphatically did. As Justice Sandra Day O'Connor stated in her dissent, in the other cases where the Court approved an expansive use of eminent domain, such as the removal of blighted areas or to break up an oligopoly of land ownership in Hawaii, the property being taken was harmful in some way. Here, the Court for the first time upheld the use of eminent domain purely for private development without any showing that there was a problem with the land itself apart from it being less “productive” than the new development projects. This is a breathtaking expansion of eminent domain.
Institute for Justice factual
The editorials also claim that the Institute for Justice has misrepresented facts throughout this controversy. Where? When? One may disagree with our opinions, but we don't misrepresent facts. Shortly after we filed this case, we had one factual error in our materials. We stated that a private health club was going to be built where some homes are, as the original municipal development plan had called for. The NLDC had modified the plan and moved the health club to the hotel. Once this was brought to our attention, we corrected our materials and never repeated it. In contrast, I have read recent letters supporting the NLDC that contain falsehoods, such as the claim that hardly any of the property owners live in Fort Trumbull.
Second, The Day editorial claims that the case is over and that any moratorium or changes to Connecticut law would not and should not affect Fort Trumbull property owners. This is false. We have filed a petition for rehearing before the Supreme Court. The compensation trials in this case have not even begun. The cases are alive and the moratorium demanded by Gov. M. Jodi Rell and the Connecticut legislature must apply to Fort Trumbull. If the city and NLDC refuse, they must be forced to stay their hand while the legislature reconsiders the laws that gave rise to this controversy.
The Day and NLDC can complain as much as they want about their supposed unfair treatment by the rest of the nation, but the only question that matters is, what are you going to do about the situation now? It does not matter whether the city and NLDC squeaked out a win before the Supreme Court. They may have won that battle, but they have lost the war. Evicting the homeowners will lead to more delay, more lawsuits, more controversy, more shame and more national scorn for New London.
Build around the residents
Fort Trumbull property owners have fought a battle that is transforming the country. The city and NLDC do not need their land to do development projects. The city can have significant new development in Fort Trumbull while letting these homeowners, who have shown the world what it means to be an American freedom fighter, stay. There is more land available in Fort Trumbull for development than New York has to rebuild the World Trade Center. It is sad that all of this time, energy and money have been spent on 1.54 acres in a 90-acre project area. The city and NLDC can end this controversy by dropping the eminent-domain lawsuits.
There is bad blood between many of the parties in this controversy, but we are willing to put aside differences and history to work with anyone on ensuring that new development takes place in New London while permitting the homeowners to stay.
Gov. Rell, several state legislators and Rep. Rob Simmons have taken a leadership role in seeking to make this happen. It is time for local officials to step up and reach accord with the homeowners by letting them stay in Fort Trumbull. The eyes of the nation are watching. By taking these steps, they can transform the reputation of New London from one of national disgrace to national hero. The alternative is an unmitigated disaster for the homeowners and New London.
The Day: www.theday.com
Scott Bullock is a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice: SBullock@ij.org