Friday, August 12, 2005
Editorial: An eminently weak case for an airport
Franklin County land takings for uncertain public benefit would be an abuse of eminent domain.
From the RoundTable blog
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Franklin County apparently has a suitable site for a general-aviation airport. It apparently can get the federal government to pay much of the cost to build it.
One crucial ingredient is still missing, however: a plausible argument that the public benefit would be broad and extensive enough to justify using the power of eminent domain to take hundreds of acres from 18 landowners.
Who, exactly, would use an airport limited to private planes and corporate jets? Supporters mention company executives who would drop in occasionally to check on existing or hoped-for business operations in the county.
They could avoid the drive from Roanoke Regional Airport on their visits. It's safe to assume that the wealthiest of Smith Mountain Lake residents could find it useful, too.
That's about it for specifics. The rest of the argument in favor of the project appears to rest on the dubious assumption that an airport -- even one with little identifiable economic value beyond convenience for a handful of rich and powerful people and air enthusiasts -- is always a significant development asset for the community.
The county board of supervisors might have the legal right to condemn land for the 330-acre project. The U.S. Supreme Court's recent New London decision gave localities a remarkably free hand in employing the power of eminent domain for a general economic good.
But land takings in pursuit of such vague, uncertain community benefits -- and quite specific benefits for a well-to-do few -- look distressingly similar to the abusive exploitation feared by critics of the high court's ruling.
If a more substantial case can be made for the airport as an economic development asset, supporters should make it.
Without far better evidence, Franklin County's elected officials have no business using eminent domain to take land from unwilling owners.
And in the next legislative session, the General Assembly should ensure a healthy discipline on the power localities gained under the New London ruling.
Private property should not be taken in pursuit of vague hopes.