Eminently Sensible: Vancouver WA Columbian, 4/6/07

Bill limiting condemnation of land by ports for tourism projects could be felt here

A bill moving through the [Washington state] Legislature might take the eminent domain hammer out of the hands of the Port of Camas-Washougal in the proposed 65-acre RiverWalk project on the banks of the Columbia. The same thing goes for any other port district in the state that gets into the business of attracting tourists, which was made easier by the same bill.

That’s good, which is not to say RiverWalk or other potential port projects are a bad idea if done right with public input. But condemning private property for a nonpublic benefit is bad policy.

The bill in the state that passed the House of Representatives 89-7 Wednesday paved the legal road for a waterfront development in Bremerton that would involve the local port district as a participant. A provision would have allowed port districts to seek condemnation of private land under eminent domain.

But the American public has been rightly outraged by local governments condemning private land for private projects, thanks to exposure of the practice on the “60 Minutes” program and a 2005 U.S. Supreme court Case, Kelo vs. New London, Conn.

An amendment by Rep. Richard Curtis, R-La Center, that had bipartisan support removed the power of eminent domain from port districts that might otherwise have used it to get land for tourism-promotion purposes.

“We feel eminent domain has a place with schools, hospitals, roads and other things of public necessity,” Curtis said Thursday, “but not tourist facilities. We don’t want the taking of someone’s land” for that purpose.

At the same time, other aspects of the bill, SB 5339, appear to clear the way for all ports to get into the tourism-promotion business. Given that port districts typically own waterfront property, which is a natural draw, and given that ports are supposed to create jobs, the bill has much to commend it and could influence future developments at ports all along the Columbia River. But it’s best to do that by purchasing private land, not condemning it.

Byron Hanke, consultant to the Port of Camas-Washougal on the proposed RiverWalk project, said Thursday that talks between the port and private landowners in the “footprint” of the proposed development are ongoing but have not produced any deals so far.

“At this point, eminent domain has not entered into the conversations on this project,” Hanke said.

Much of the 65 acres is owned by the port, but a large chunk is Hambleton Lumber Co. land. The Parker House Restaurant is another privately owned parcel.

As if further evidence were needed that RiverWalk has its critics, Roger Daniels of Washougal, a leader of Concerned Citizens in Action, fired off an e-mail Thursday saying he was “delighted” to read about Curtis’ amendment passing. “Maybe Hambleton Brothers may soon have some protection,” Daniels said.

Vancouver WA Columbian: http://www.columbian.com