Washington, D.C.–Amid serious concerns about the abuse of eminent domain and long-term costs and responsibility for the museum, Rep. Robert Simmons (R-CT) today withdrew his amendment before the House Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee that would have authorized the U.S. Coast Guard commandant to move forward with plans to establish a controversial U.S. Coast Guard national museum in New London, Conn. Under current plans, the museum would force out long-time New London homeowners.
“The subcommittee was absolutely correct to raise concerns about the museum project,” said Scott Bullock, senior attorney at the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Justice. “Receiving land through eminent domain is contrary to every principle of the Coast Guard.”
The U.S. Coast Guard announced in 2002 that it intends to build a museum in the historic Fort Trumbull neighborhood of New London, Conn., on a parcel of land that is at the heart of an ongoing eminent domain controversy. Several families currently live on this land, including an 84-year old woman who was born in the house in which she currently resides and has never lived anywhere else.
In the course of defending the amendment he ultimately withdrew, Simmons misstated what is happening in the Fort Trumbull controversy, claiming that the dispute was about a few property owners holding out for “two or three times” the value of their land.
“It is rare to witness a member of Congress maligning and misrepresenting his own constituents in public, but that is exactly what Representative Simmons did,” said Bullock. “These people don’t want money; they just want to be left alone to enjoy the homes that are rightfully theirs. Simmons’ comments about the brave Fort Trumbull residents were staggeringly false and offensive.”
The City of New London delegated its eminent domain authority to the New London Development Corporation (NLDC), a private development group, and the NLDC moved to condemn the homes of seven property owners in the fall of 2000. On December 20, 2000, the property owners, with the help of the Institute, began to fight back with a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the NLDC’s abuse of eminent domain. Their case was argued last December before the Connecticut Supreme Court, which has yet to issue an opinion.
In March 2002, Connecticut Superior Court Judge Thomas J. Corradino dismissed the eminent domain actions filed against the owners of homes where the museum is now planned. The City of New London and the NLDC appealed that ruling while the Institute appealed the part of the decision that permitted the NLDC to take other neighborhood homes where privately owned office space is planned.
The full U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure will convene on June 25, 2003, and may consider the Coast Guard budget. Simmons will have another opportunity at that point to put forward his amendment.
“We commend Rep. James Oberstar and the rest of the subcommittee for looking into this issue,” Bullock said. “We hope the committee will continue its investigation into this matter and hold hearings on the issue. We are confident that, in the end, Congress will not permit the building of a Coast Guard museum on land that was forcibly taken through eminent domain.”
Indeed, a location is available in New London right next to the Coast Guard academy—an 18-acre piece of land known as Riverside Park that would not involve the displacement of any homeowners. Moreover, the museum could be built on the site of a closed facility in Fort Trumbull that the NLDC has acquired from the U.S. Navy.
The Institute for Justice is a nonprofit, public interest law firm currently fighting battles across the nation against the taking of private properties by governments for the benefit of private parties. These include cases in New London, Conn., metropolitan New York and Mesa, Ariz. IJ has already scored victories against the abuse of eminent domain in court and in the court of public opinion in Atlantic City, N.J.; Baltimore; Pittsburgh and Canton, Miss. IJ recently published “Public Power, Private Gain,” a report that for the first time ever documents eminent domain abuse nationwide. The report, which is available at www.ij.org, documented more than 10,000 private-use takings.