9/09/2005

Eminent domain abuse: Newark (NJ) Star Ledger, 9/8/05

It didn't take long. The ink was hardly dry on the U.S. Supreme Court decision okaying the use of eminent domain to seize property for private development before a New Jersey municipality woefully abused that power.

It should be no surprise that the town is Linden, a Union County city long known for mindboggling political shenanigans.

Mayor John Gregorio, convicted of conspiracy but pardoned by former Gov. Tom Kean, and a majority of the city council voted to seize 143 acres of prime real estate owned by ISP Environmental Services.

The land will not be used to build a highway or school or for some other great public purpose. No. If the city has its way, it will condemn the property, whose owners don't want to sell, and turn it over to Joseph Morris, a politically connected developer who gave more than $120,000 to Democrats from 2001 to 2004. To ensure that things moved along smoothly, Morris secured the legal services of powerful Democratic state Sen. Raymond Lesniak.

When the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Kelo vs. New London, it noted that there was a danger that eminent domain could be misused. The power should not be used solely to benefit a favored developer, it said. Yet, remarkably, that's what is happening in Linden.

ISP is using the property for the precise use called for in the city's redevelopment plan — a warehouse distribution center. Taking the property simply because city officials prefer Morris is a gross misuse of government power.

For nearly 100 years, ISP has owned the land. A major chemical facility, which at its height employed 3,000 workers, was once on the site. After the plant closed in 1991, ISP got necessary approvals from the state Department of Environmental Protection to build a hazardous waste incinerator. When city officials cried "not in my backyard," ISP put the incinerator on hold and agreed to work with the city to come up with a more desirable use for the property. They agreed on warehouse distribution facilities to serve the expanding Port of Newark-Elizabeth.

Encouraged by the city, ISP paid for a redevelopment plan and spent more than $37 million to do an environmental cleanup of the site. Additional money was devoted to persuading the New Jersey Turnpike to build a road from Interchange 12 for easy highway access.

After ISP did all the heavy lifting, city officials, in an absolutely stunning move, voted to condemn the ISP property, along with 98 acres owned by DuPont, and turn over both parcels to Morris.

For anyone looking for a textbook example of the misapplication of eminent domain, this case offers the frightening primer


Newark Star Ledger: www.starledger.com