The battle over Solberg Airport in my hometown of Readington Township, NJ will reach a new stage soon. The battle involves the long-running attempt to seize Solberg land through eminent domain in order to prevent development of the property into a larger airport capable of handling corporate jets, or into housing. The battle has split the township, and elections have become a de facto referendum on the Solberg issue.
In the last election, two pro-eminent domain township committee incumbents were defeated by two anti-eminent domain challengers. This election will once again pit two pro-eminent domain candidates—Liz Duffy and Ben Smith—against an anti-eminent domain team, Larry Lelah & Deb Lyons.
All the candidates that will face the voters in the June 2, 2015 primary are Republicans. Generally, no Democrats run in Readington, so the winner of the primary is usually in effect the winners of the November general election by virtue of running unopposed.
This new stage of the Solberg battle was set by Readington’s third court loss, in which the Solbergs are fighting to protect their land from eminent domain seizure. In this latest court decision, N.J. Superior Court Judge Paul W. Armstrong labeled Readington’s action “a manifest abuse of the power of eminent domain.”
In reaction, Duffy and Smith penned a Letter describing Readington’s options going forward:
1. Appeal Armstrong's decision. An appeal would be a small fraction of the cost of the trial and the years of discovery leading up to it. If we win on appeal, the township would not have to pay the Solbergs' legal fees, and the land around the airport would be preserved.
2. Don't appeal, and let the judge's ruling stand. In this case, the township would pay the Solbergs' legal fees, and the parties should go back to the positions they were in the day before the taking. This means the Solbergs would have an airport on between 50-100 acres surrounded by 600-plus acres of land zoned Agricultural-Residential.
Duffy and Smith support option 1, and concluded their letter with:
These critical decisions should be made by people who have the interests of the entire township in mind; not by candidates hand-picked and supported by the most vocal supporters of the Solbergs. Can you imagine a Township Committee with four out of five members that the Solbergs and their closest supporters helped elect negotiating with the Solbergs? We are in the best position to represent the interests of the entire Township.
“Most vocal supporters” happen to be a majority of the township’s voters, many of whom are not merely supporters of the airport or of the Solbergs, but conscientious opponents of eminent domain (such as me).
I left these comments:
Beware politicians peddling undefined collectivist slogans, like this one:
“We are in the best position to represent the interests of the entire Township.”
Just what are those “interests,” and who determines them?
It is not in the interests of the Solbergs to be forced into “negotiations” with township officials, while those officials hold over their heads the threat to take their land if they don’t agree to township demands. That’s Mob-style “negotiating.” Good faith negotiation implies voluntary give-and-take on both sides, with each side having the right to say no to any offer without threats of aggression to coerce an “agreement.” A negotiation in which one side is holding a gun to the head of the other party is not a negotiation. It is “an offer that you can’t refuse”—literally.
It’s not in my interests to be forced to finance, through my taxes, what I consider a grossly immoral and un-American action against a Readington neighbor, while that neighbor is stuck with huge legal expenses just to protect their property and their right to use it in any peaceable manner they choose. Nor is it in the interests of any other Readington Township resident who opposes their township officials’ eminent domain aggression.
There are no “interests of the entire township,” apart from the diverse interests of the individuals who comprise the township. Neither Duffy, Smith, or anyone else have any right to declare themselves the township interest czars claiming the authority to impose their idea of “the interests of the entire Township” on everyone else. There are only the interests of individual residents.
The “option” of negotiating with the Solbergs from a position of aggression as the final arbiter is no option at all for those whose land is threatened, or for those forced to finance the threat against their consciences and convictions. The fact that our constitution wrongly grants the power of eminent domain to government officials does not mitigate its immorality. Differences among residents should be worked out without the threat of force, and with due respect for private property and other individual rights.
The Rise of Collectivism and the Fall of the Constitution