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Eminent Domain

The Enterprise
By Joseph T. Waldo

I have read with great interest the recent articles and letters about property owners' concerns as a result of proposed pipelines through Patrick County. Property owners who do not agree to voluntarily sell their rights to the pipeline will have their property taken by the power of eminent domain if the pipeline moves forward.

Patrick county residents are quickly learning the awesome power of eminent domain in Virginia. When condemning authorities such as Duke Energy or Dominion Transmission, Inc. or for that matter, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), want to acquire property and the owner won't sell, they are allowed to use the power of eminent domain (the right of the government to take property by the act of condemnation).

A subcommittee of the Virginia General Assembly has just concluded hearings in Richmond on laws affecting Virginia property owners when their property is taken by condemnation. Virginia property owners should learn everything. they can about Virginia condemnation laws and what they can do to reform our laws. Our laws need to be fairer for our homeowners, farmers and business owners.

Most Virginians have no idea that their property can be taken by "quick- take": a procedure where the pipeline company or government deposits money into Court and the title to property transfers without a trial. If a condemnor offers an inadequate price for the property and forces the owner to go to Court, and the owner wins and proves the true value of the property, the owner is still saddled with litigation expenses even though the pipeline or government was wrong.

Under the leadership of the Virginia Property Rights coalition headed by Nancy McCord in Blacksburg (www.vapropertyrights.org) property owners are seeking reform of Virginia's eminent domain laws to make them fairer to the owners. They are asking that Virginia follow many other states that require condemning authorities to reimburse property owners for their litigation expenses when the Court rules that their offer was too low.

Present law effectively encourages low offers since the owners who contest them face the intimidating cost of financing a lawsuit. Many owners simply cannot stand this expense.

Recently, the Reader's Digest (March 2001) published an insightful article about the abuse of condemnation in this country under the title of "Kiss Your House Good-Bye." For the first time ever, many Patrick County property owners are beginning to realize that they may have to "say good-bye" to. their home, farm or business.

Every property owner in Patrick county who loves freedom and values their land should contact Delegate Ward Armstrong and Senator Roscoe Reynolds now that the General Assembly has reconvened in Richmond, and urge their support for new laws that will protect Virginia owners faced with the condemnation of their property.