8/29/2005

Landowners aim to defend domain: Pauls Valley (OK) Daily Democrat, 8/25/05

By Luke Engan

When an electric authority aimed to string a power transmission line to the Windstar Casino in Love County, it didn't count on Joe Heim.

"They're not used to people like ourselves who got up on our hind legs and fought back," said Heim of six owners who retained an attorney in protest to the plan.

So far, no construction has begun.

Speaking before legislators considering changes to Oklahoma's eminent domain law, Heim said the Chickasaw Nation is paying for the supplemental power line.

It could be built along existing rights-of-way, but the nation chose instead to run it across Heim's property on an Interstate 35 exit, Heim said.

Surveyors who intended to keep the line at the edge of his land mistakenly mapped it across the middle and refused to change their plans, according to Heim.

He said the corporation offered $70 per yard to run the line across his land - then pursued a court settlement to take the easement in the name of the public good.

Tuesday was the second of three meetings for the unofficial task force, led by Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond. The group aims to propose legislation in response to the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision Kelo v. City of New London, Conn.

The court held that condemning private property for use by private developers is allowed under federal law, prompting property owners around the country to rally for protective state laws.

Alabama won the race to enact a law in response to the June 23 ruling.

Margaret McMorrow-Love, special counsel to the Oklahoma Municipal League, has studied Alabama's statute, which allows eminent domain on blighted property but not eminent domain for retail, industrial or commercial uses.

But she said language in the Alabama ordinance might open the door to condemn blighted property and then turn it over for the same types of private development.

McMorrow-Love said the policy issue is complicated and the Alabama law might need to be interpreted.

Jolley responded that Oklahoma should aim for more clarity.

"So they just opened it up for litigation in Alabama? We're going to try to make sure we don't have that," Jolley said.

McMorrow-Love cautioned against restricting entire categories of development, saying it could pose unwanted consequences like hampering rural economies.

Wider roads and sewer lines, public parks and local shops might not happen without eminent domain, and the projects could lead to more jobs, McMorrow-Love said.

She asked lawmakers to protect eminent domain rights particularly for rural communities in Oklahoma, "so that they don't die and blow away as in the Dust Bowl."



Pauls Valley Daily Democrat: www.paulsvalleydailydemocrat.com