Is a greenbelt more important to Idahoans than their right not to surrender their land to government if they choose not do so?
Eminent domain is the catch-all term for condemnation of private property by a government entity. Sen. Jim Guthrie, R-McCammon, is seeking to clarify existing law so the threat of eminent domain is not used for trails, paths or greenways unless specific circumstances are in place.
Senate Bill 1046 says, “Eminent domain not shall not be used to acquire private property: for trails, paths, greenways or other ways for walking, running, hiking, bicycling, or equestrian use,” though there is an exception that reads, “unless adjacent to a highway, road or street.”
The issue has come to a head for Guthrie because of an issue in Pocatello. The Portneuf Greenway Foundation is pushing for a greenway and describes the proposal as an alternative transportation system for pedestrian and bicyclists.
“I think there have been instances all over the country that’s triggering this kind of legislation in states,” says Guthrie of his proposal to limit the use of eminent domain. “In my neck of the woods they had an issue where they were building a greenway and they had entertained the idea of going to eminent domain to take those properties and there were about 28 property owners that didn’t want to sell.”
The foundation says: “We began our pursuit to have a public hearing to discuss the mechanisms available to complete the Greenway alternative transportation system with the City of Pocatello not to confiscate property, but to bring landowners to a negotiation table which had not been successful in the past 20 years.”
Guthrie says it is not necessarily the action of eminent domain being used against private property owners that worries him, but the actual threat of eminent domain facing landowners. “People know that threat is there, so they yield to the sale. The fact of the matter is every bit as much as a gun in a robbery where somebody goes in and says ‘stick ‘em up.’ The person maybe didn’t fire the gun, but the threat was there and so the store owner yields to the demands.”
The Pocatello foundation insists “In the more than 20 years since its inception, the Portneuf Greenway Foundation has continually attempted to work fairly and equitably with landowners neighboring the proposed trail areas. We are still, once again, working diligently to have an open, diplomatic conversation and establish a dialogue with the landowners to address their concerns.”
For Guthrie, the issue is pretty simple; it is a question of property rights. “If you purchase something you have a right, I think even under the Constitution, to enjoy your property and the idea somebody else could enjoy that because a government entity took it is really contrary to how I believe. It’s really a private property rights issue for me. “