Many New Jersey Shore towns battered by superstorm Sandy are moving to seize private land to accommodate a network of protective coastal dunes, using their powers of eminent domain in a way officials say they never have before.
Many of the homeowners who are holding out have two main issues: They want financial compensation, and they don’t want to lose their ocean views. The dunes could be 18 feet tall or higher. Some fear signing the easements invites commercial development, though the state says that won’t happen.
“I can’t get past the point the government wants to take my property. You can’t take people’s property without compensation,” said Arlene “Barrie” Callahan, who owns a Cape Cod-style home in Long Beach Township. “If they’re taking half the yard maybe they should pay half the taxes? That would at least be something.”
Many New Jersey towns have suggested that homeowners who haven’t agreed to give up their land could get less than $1,000 in exchange, but officials say homeowners are in effect also being compensated with the protection provided by the new dune structures.
Under eminent domain, the government can take private property for public use, as long as it provides compensation. Generally, the Jersey towns are seeking to take just strips of land from parcels, enough to make room for dunes.
Legal experts and state and town officials say New Jersey’s proposed use of eminent domain to build protective dunes is unusual and likely unprecedented, though the proceeding has been used routinely for other types of projects deemed to be in the public’s benefit, such as roads. Across the U.S., a few towns are considering eminent domain to fight banks from moving on underwater mortgages, but that has sparked legal and political battles.
New Jersey’s move is constitutional but raises questions, including whether owners are being compensated fairly, said Ilya Somin, a professor at George Mason University and an expert on eminent domain. He added that government officials often try to under-compensate owners and that measuring how much land is worth is tricky. Often for emotional reasons, many land owners tend to overstate their property’s value.
“In the narrow boundaries of the law, it is permissible,” he said. “Whether it is actually desirable for the government to condemn land, I don’t know.”
Public officials, naturally, are unsympathetic to their citizens’ complaints.
“Everybody knows the dunes are coming. Period. End of story. You can be a good neighbor, get in line. Or you can fight it. One or the other,” said [Toms River Mayor] Mr. Mancini.
Does a state have the constitutional authority to seize homeowners’ property for the general good without compensating those who are losing their land? I think not, but I’m not a liberal jurist: this past July, New Jersey’s Supreme Court ruled that no compensation was due, and liberal courts across the nation simply love, and follow, the property (non) rights decisions of their brethren in the Garden State. If this land grab survives federal scrutiny, look for the global warmists and Greenwich-haters to close in on us here. Can you imagine the glee with which the Hartford loonies would impose this on Greenwich? Aided and betted by our own Diane Fox, Katie Blankley and Denise Savageu, of course, who would love to see our town waterfront sealed off from its owners. If they can take that land without paying for it, you know they’ll do it. Or try to, anyway: beware.