Voters to decide eminent domain: Monroe County MI News, 10/17/06

By Stephanie Ariganello

Michigan voters will face five policy issues on the November ballot. While the issues run the gamut from hunting to school funding, all have the potential to impact the daily lives of Michigan residents.

A few of the proposals likely stand out more prominently for Monroe County residents - particularly Proposal 4, the initiative that deals with eminent domain.

The ballot proposal would essentially make it more difficult for governments to use eminent domain to take privately owned land, said Eric Lupher, an analyst with the Citizen's Research Council of Michigan, a non-partisan group. The proposal would change the state constitution and aims to shift the balance from the governmental power to take land toward property owners and their rights to acquire, own, use and protect private property.

With the term eminent domain surrounding the proposed US Rail intermodal railyard in Erie, the ballot proposal is more prominent than it might be otherwise.

When asked how the proposal, if passed, could affect the possibility of the railyard acquiring land in Erie Township, Mr. Lupher said the answer is obscure.

"The U.S. Supreme Court says that legislative decision-making power has been delegated to the railroads," he said. "They appear to have somewhat of a free reign with that decision."

But, Mr. Lupher went on to say, the first provision within the eminent domain law is likely where the answer would rest. The new proposal would block governments from using eminent domain to take a private property for transfer to another private entity for the purposes of economic development or to bolster their tax base.

Yet, any decision would depend on the specifics of the situation. Since it's unclear at this point if US Rail has the power of the rail utilities or if it would be considered a private company, the issue may or may not be affected by the election outcome.

"It would likely end up in court," he said. "The bigger questions (involving eminent domain) is to determine if the decision is legislative - if something needs to be changed in the Legislature."

Eminent domain became a hot topic in Erie Township earlier this year when US Rail informally announced its plans to build a rail yard just off I-75. At a public meeting one offical mentioned that because the project involved the railroad, eminent domain could be a factor. That set off a whirlwind of activity in the township as citizens banded together to halt US Rail, which still has never formally announced plans.

Hundreds of area residents put up signs saying "No Eminent Domain" and several area municipalities, including the Monroe County Board of Commissioners, passed resolutions against the project if eminent domain was being used. Now, some of those area residents are taking down the signs in favor of ones that say to vote yes on the eminent domain proposal.

Other ballot issues deal with funding recreational and conservational activities, hunting mourning doves, paying for schools and teacher retirement and affirmative action in hiring public employees.

Monroe County MI News: http://www.monroenews.com