Eminent domain topic of wake-up session: (Ames IA) Tribune, 1/29/06

By Josh Nelson

Story County legislators said Saturday changes in eminent domain regulations would be enacted this session, but disagreed on how far they would go.

The comments came during a "wake-up" session held by the League of Women Voters of Ames.

Reps. Lisa Heddens, D-Ames, and Jim Kurtenbach, R-Nevada, have sponsored bills that would limit the power governments have in taking land from private citizens.

The bills were prompted by the Supreme Court decision on Kelo v. The City of New London, Conn., which expanded a city's eminent domain powers to include economic development.

"This is an area we need to be careful in," said Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames.

Wessel-Kroeschell said one of the problems facing legislators is how to limit the eminent domain powers without tying the hands of city authorities. Much of the debate has turned on what the definitions of "public use" and "public improvement" should be.

Heddens' bill would prohibit cities from using eminent domain for economic development or to broaden the tax base.

Both Kurtenbach and Sen. Stewart Iverson, R-Clarion, said they would oppose efforts to allow eminent domain to be used for things like bike trails and parks.

"We have to be very, very careful on what we determine as public use," Iverson said.

State law specifically prohibits trails, parks and recreation areas from eminent domain powers, Iverson said.

Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, said he disagreed.

"I thought the recreation trails decision was a mistake," he said.

Quirmbach, a former Ames city councilman, said he thought things like trails and parks do serve a public interest or use, but eminent domain should be a "last resort" for cities, and it should be used intelligently.

"We don't want a trail to go through the middle of a corn field," he said. "That's not using it wisely."

The League of Women Voters has scheduled two more wake-up sessions at 8:30 a.m. Saturdays, March 4 and April 1, at Ames City Hall.

The Tribune: www.midiowanews.com