IJ Fights Eminent Domain Scheme

December 1, 2008

Most local governments would be pleased to have in their city a profitable, tax-paying, unsubsidized, 48-year-old family business that pays its 43 employees an average wage of $24 per hour with full benefits.

But not St. Paul, Minn.

The St. Paul Port Authority, a development agency tasked with bringing business into St. Paul, is kicking out just such a company.

On Sept. 15, Karen Haug, owner of Advance Shoring Co., received notice that the Port Authority plans to use eminent domain to condemn nearly 10 of the 12 acres her company uses to store cranes, scaffolding and equipment that it leases to construction companies. For almost 20 years, the Port Authority has coveted Advance’s property and has sought to hand it over to someone else for private economic development.

Its current actions are an attempt to use a trumped-up environmental concern to return Minnesota to the bad old days when city central planners had a free hand to push for their pet projects by abusing eminent domain powers, using boatloads of taxpayer dollars, and turn property and subsidies over to private developers for so-called “economic development.” The developer gets the land and a sweetheart deal, the Port Authority gets to crow about a new project, the government planners get to keep their phony jobs and the rightful landowner gets the boot.

The Port Authority describes its redevelopment mission as acquiring sites “too risky” to develop because of pollution and it claims that Advance’s site must be taken for environmental remediation. What the Port Authority refuses to acknowledge, however, is that Advance’s property complies with all of the state’s environmental directives. Indeed, as the state’s own environmental protection agency found, Advance’s property does not pose a threat to the public’s health or safety.

The real story here is that the Port Authority is acting well outside its mandate, using environmental scare tactics and engaging in eminent domain abuse for so-called “economic development”—the very thing the Minnesota Legislature made illegal in May 2006, a year after the U.S. Supreme Court’s infamous Kelo decision.

Instrumental in lobbying for those legislative reforms, the IJ Minnesota Chapter is now defending Karen’s property. The chapter will show the absurdity of the Port Authority kicking out a St. Paul business that has thrived by helping, literally, to build the city, only to make way for a private development project that has no developer and no tenants and requires subsidies of more than $10 million. This abuse of eminent domain is contrary to what Minnesotans just two years ago overwhelmingly said that they do not want government doing—abusing eminent domain for private gain.

The fight has just begun. Karen and IJ-Minnesota have united and are determined to protect her company, her employees’ jobs and every Minnesotan’s right to be free from bureaucrats who refuse to follow the legislative protections of homes, businesses and farms enacted a year after Kelo.

Lee McGrath is the IJ Minnesota Chapter executive director.

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