Citizens' group keeps up eminent-domain fight: Roanoke VA Times, 5/11/07

The group, formed to oppose a cargo terminal, still wants to see a land ordinance passed

By Tim Thornton

Salem [VA] has offered to host Norfolk Southern's intermodal rail yard, but a Montgomery County group that formed to keep the train and truck cargo terminal out of Elliston isn't packing up yet.

"I think we need to continue our fight as if it were being built in Elliston," Dan Burroughs said at a Thursday evening meeting that drew 20 people to Lafayette United Methodist Church. "When they start building the thing in Salem, then we can have a party."

Citizens for the Preservation of our Countryside is still urging the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors to pass an ordinance that would make it illegal for corporations to use eminent domain - the power to buy private land even if the owner doesn't want to sell - in Montgomery County. It would declare "natural communities and ecosystems" to be "persons" in legal issues and declare that corporations are not "persons" in Montgomery County.

It would forbid corporations - along with their agents, directors, officers, owners or managers - from contributing to political candidates in the county. It would also make it illegal for corporations to sue for "future profits."

Shireen Parsons, the Virginia organizer for the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, a Pennsylvania-based nonprofit group leading a movement against the practice of treating corporations as people before the law, helped organize the Montgomery County group. She asserted Thursday that the ordinance would allow Blacksburg to prohibit big-box stores such as Wal-Mart. Developers sued the town hours earlier, seeking to protect their right to build a big box.

Citizens for the Preservation of our Countryside has decided to change tactics.

"Until we've got something else to say, we're not going to get up and make any speeches," Burroughs said.

Burroughs said Supervisor Jim Politis told him the board already understands the group's position, so continuing to hammer on it may be counterproductive.

Burroughs also said Politis has agreed to bring the ordinance to the board, which has passed three resolutions against the Elliston site, if another supervisor will join him. Next week Burroughs plans to talk to Supervisor Gary Creed, whose district includes the site where Norfolk Southern wants to build the intermodal yard.

Not everyone was enthusiastic. Martha Orrick, Joyce Graham and Michael Hemphill, who were working against the intermodal plans months before Citizens for the Preservation of our Countryside formed, took issue with tactics, tone and goals.

Hemphill formally disassociated himself from the group, saying he can't endorse Parsons' confrontational rhetoric.

Roanoke VA Times: http://www.roanoke.com