Law Needs to be Clear on Eminent Domain

18 Jan

Five years ago, the NH state constitution was amended with this single, straightforward sentence: “No part of a person’s property shall be taken by eminent domain and transferred, directly or indirectly, to another person if the taking is for the purpose of private development or other private use of the property.” The call for this amendment arose out of a US Supreme Court case called the Kelo Decision that allowed the city of New London, Connecticut to take private property on behalf of a private developer to build a hotel-retail-condo “urban village” over the objections of the land owner.

In 2006 the NH State Legislature passed legislation to set appropriate limits on eminent domain to protect private property. The House went ahead and voted 277 to 61 to put the constitutional amendment on the November 2006 ballot, and the Senate concurred/agreed unanimously, 24 to 0.

Many throughout NH endorsed the proposed amendment and the NH citizens agreed, with 86 percent of voters, voting to approve the amendment to the constitution (Article 12-a). It clearly showed the vast majority of NH voters support protecting our property rights.

Fast forward to 2011: 351 members of the 400-member NH House of Representatives voted to codify the 2006 constitutional amendment and put this protection into state law by passing HB 648, relative to eminent domain petitions by public utilities. Again, the margin of approval was overwhelming. Here, a private electric transmission company, Northern Pass Transmission, filing paperwork with federal agencies stating they believe they have the right to take private property in New Hampshire, gave rise to proper actions by the NH House to make sure state law is in line with the 2006 constitutional amendment.

It seemed like a clear path to correct and align state law with the new constitutional amendment but the NH Senate took the summer and fall to consider what to do with HB 648. The Senate Judiciary Committee passed an amendment last month that seems to confuse the issue when it’s quite clear what the will of the people wanted when they overwhelmingly voted to amend our NH Constitution.

As a landowner who purchased his first woodlot when I was 11 years old, I decided over the next 55 years to invest every dollar I could into forest land and my wife will tell you even when I didn’t have it, I continued to invest and today our 2800 acres of woodland makes up the Thomson Family Tree Farm. This investment, like many other private landowners throughout our state makes up our family’s assets and should not be threatened by eminent domain for private development and private profit. This is just wrong and should never happen in the “Live Free or Die” state. Clarification of this situation would do a lot to avoid future law suits and reduce the pressure on private property owners.

NH citizens who voted (86%) for adding eminent domain protections to the state constitution in 2006 should contact their State Senators now and tell them to adopt HB 648 as it passed the House last year, not as it was amended by the Senate Judiciary Committee last month. The Senate votes on Jan. 18thmaking the fight for eminent domain imminent. I believe “Private Property Rights” are worth fighting for and if you agree please call your State Senators today. (link.)

Tom Thomson

Thomson Family Tree Farm

Orford, NH

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Posted by on January 18, 2012 in Uncategorized


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