City needs to tread carefully: Jacksonville FL Times-Union, 8/27/07

By My Nassau Sun

Fernandina Beach has a lot of natural beauty, so it's important to keep as much green space as possible.

That's why it is laudable that the City Commission wants to buy and preserve nearly 3 acres of pristine wetlands on Sadler Road.

Not that there is anything wrong with getting another luxury hotel, which a developer plans to put on the land. A new hotel would pump more tourism dollars into the local economy.

But a greater good might be served by maintaining the ambience of that area, which is part of the ecologically bountiful Egans Creek system.

There is, however, a right way to do things - and there's a wrong way.

The right way would be to buy the land - assuming the owner wants to sell it and the price is right.

The wrong way would be to acquire it through eminent domain - force him to sell it, in other words.

That, unfortunately, hasn't been ruled out. To the contrary, acting City Attorney Tony Leggio advised the commission last week that eminent domain would be the "least-expensive option."

Also the least desirable.

Eminent domain allows government to purchase land - at a fair price - for public purposes, even if the owner doesn't want to sell it.

For what public purpose could government take the Sadler Road property?

For drainage, as commissioners say they're considering? But the St. Johns River Water Management District Board doesn't see a problem. It has already approved the project, on the condition that a drainage pond be included.

For a park, as commissioners also have suggested?

But the original intent of eminent domain was so government could acquire land absolutely vital to the public good - for things, as The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court notes, such as roads and bridges.

If a certain parcel of land cannot be bought, a major highway cannot be built. But if land isn't available for a park in one part of the city, it can go in another area.

Granted, recent court rulings have corrupted - or at least obfuscated - the intent of the Fifth Amendment's "takings clause."

But, even then, it's a stretch to say there is a compelling public interest in acquiring land for a park - or for drainage in an area where drainage apparently isn't a problem.

The city already is bogged down in one prolonged and very expensive legal dispute with its airport operator.

Does it want another?

Jacksonville FL Times-Union: http://www.jacksonville.com/tu-online