In the comments to my recent post about Dan Maes, “Mike” reminded me about a proposal to expand military lands around Piñon Canyon.
Lynn Bartels writes for the December 10 Denver Post, “Republicans opposed to the military’s Piñon Canyon expansion project are disappointed that property rights weren’t addressed when party leaders unveiled a new platform and rallied around gubernatorial candidate Scott McInnis.”
Here is how the Post’s article summarizes the issue: “The Army wants to [expand] its 235,000-acre Piñon Canyon training maneuver area by almost 100,000 acres. The Army has promised to acquire the land only from a willing seller or through a long-term lease, but landowners in the impacted areas in southeastern Colorado fear their property will be seized, adversely-affected or the military will eventually want even more land.”
It is important, then, to distinguish between expansion of the military lands and the use of eminent domain. Property rights do not always protect the owner from being “adversely affected.” For instance, unless you live in an HOA that controls for such things, your neighbor might paint his house an ugly color, park ugly cars in front, and otherwise do things that incidentally reduce the value of your property. So we must limit the discussion to actual violations of property rights, such as the use of eminent domain to forcibly seize property from those unwilling to voluntarily sell it.
According to State Representative Steve King, McInnis said the government “is no longer threatening eminent domain in the Piñon Canyon expansion.” Apparently, then, McInnis’s support of the project assumed that eminent domain would not be used.
However, the Fifth Amendment states that private property may be taken for public use for just compensation. Do McInnis’s critics wish to claim that government ought never use eminent domain, even though the Constitution explicitly authorizes it? That’s my position, but I think McInnis’s critics need to detail their views. If Republicans are going to beat up their candidates for considering eminent domain for an obviously public use, that’s a high bar, and one that should be set intentionally rather than as a pretext for partisan attacks.
Another comment by McInnis on the matter is more troubling. According to the Post, McInnis said, “Balancing the deep need that Colorado has for quality jobs with the rights of Piñon Canyon property owners requires leadership and dialogue.”
I believe that property rights should be consistently protected, not “balanced” against some alleged need to forcibly seize property for somebody else to use. I would be interested to learn if McInnis’s Republican critics believe that eminent domain should be abolished across the board, or if they merely want to restrict the practice to somebody else’s property.
In the meantime, it would be helpful if McInnis would further clarify his views on eminent domain and property rights.