Dresser could become center for newest eminent domain case: Terre Haute IN Tribune-Star, 11/28/06

By Austin Arceo

The chairman of a riverfront development committee would not comment about the group potentially using eminent domain to buy land for the project, despite initial assurances that it wasn’t even considered.

The Wabash River Development and Beautification Committee created a plan for long-term development along the river, which includes residential and commercial opportunities along the eastern shoreline and greenway and wetlands preserve west of the Wabash River. But right in the middle of the highlighted area for development is Dresser, a small residential area outside of Terre Haute where committee members envision new development.

“Ultimately, we hope to get a [Federal Emergency Management Agency] grant to buy up Dresser, turn that into a greenway,” committee chairman John Mutchner said at a Vigo County Council meeting on Nov. 21.

“Ultimately, that will become a city park.”

He echoed those plans Monday afternoon during a presentation to the Vigo County Park and Recreation Board. After the meeting, he would not comment on whether or not eminent domain would be used, even as a last resort, to acquire land in Dresser.

“I’d rather not even address that,” Mutchner said. “I’m simply saying we hope we don’t have to get involved in that. We hope that, for the good of the community, we can resolve this thing.”

Several Terre Haute officials who also are committee members have previously said that eminent domain, or the government’s right to buy private land for a public use, would not be used.

Dresser, also known as Taylorville, lies in the middle of a flood plain, and laws prevent people from building or renovating homes in the area. The levee protecting Dresser has decayed from neglect, as government entities have denied responsibility for maintaining it.

Now the committee, which includes several officials from the Terre Haute and Vigo County governments, wants to buy land there. Terre Haute has allocated $200,000 this year and $200,000 more next year for the project. Vigo County has committed $100,000 this year and $100,000 next year to help the committee.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Kelo vs. City of New London, Conn., that a local government could use eminent domain to buy land for private development as part of the city’s economic revitalization plans.

If the government wanted to buy land for a public park, Dresser residents could be forced into selling despite their objections, said Jeffrey Stake, a professor at Indiana University’s School of Law-Bloomington.

While it could be easy to oppose politically, “the government taking land for public use in a park or greenway where people walk is not going to be easy to resist,” Stake said.

“Basically, the government had the power to do that for a long time and ‘Kelo’ didn’t change that.”

Indiana recently amended laws regarding eminent domain after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision.

The new law allows the government to use eminent domain to give land to a private developer in certain instances.

Dresser resident Floyd Cheesman noted that while some of his neighbors do well, others live only on Social Security.

He thinks that eminent domain might ultimately be used to buy land there.

He also said that committee members and government officials have not communicated much with Dresser residents.

“We live in a vacuum,” Cheesman said. “You’d tend to think there would be some language between us, but there’s nothing. I just don’t understand it.”

Terre Haute IN Tribune-Star: http://www.tribstar.com