Eminent domain bill faces hurdle in Senate: (Myrtle Beach SC) Sun News, 5/24/06

By Zane Wilson

One of the things [South Carolina] legislators vowed to do as the session opened in January was to ensure that property can be condemned only for public use.

The bill still hasn't passed and is teetering after attempts in the Senate on Tuesday to change it while only five days remain in the session. One proposal from Sen. Dick Elliott, D-North Myrtle Beach, could have forced owners of property under conservation easement to give land without cost for utilities, roads and other uses.

The amendment was tabled on a voice vote, and so was a similar one from Sen. Jake Knotts, R-West Columbia.

The debate is part of what is called the eminent domain bill. It is aimed at ensuring the government cannot take land for public benefit, which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last fall is permissible. Instead, lawmakers want it clear that property must be condemned for actual use for something such as a road or school.

Elliott said later Tuesday that his amendment was misunderstood. It was not intended to require free land from privately owned property held in a conservation easement, he said.

But his proposal did allow almost any agency with condemnation powers to take such land, and it should be more restrictive by allowing only a few to use the privilege, Elliott said.

"My amendment was too broad," he said.

He said he will try again with a refined proposal today. It will also include a requirement that use of preserved land or a park for a road or utility line must pass an environmental study, he said.

The point he and Knotts were making was that the public should not have to buy land twice.

If the Department of Natural Resources or state parks have land and an easement is needed across it for a road, power or gas line, the state should not have to pay to buy that land again, they said.

Two senators said the possibility that private land held in conservation could be included in Elliott's and Knotts' proposals could not be allowed.

Sen. Scott Richardson, R-Hilton Head Island, said he had spent 20 years trying to gain landowners' confidence in making conservation easements.

If Elliott's or Knotts' proposal passed, conservation easements would become the target for any new utility lines, Richardson said.

The House passed an eminent domain bill that requires compensation for changes in land use, such as with zoning, but the Senate has said it will not consider that provision.

The Sun News: http://www.myrtlebeachonline.com