Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Readington's Eminent Domain Assault on Solberg Airport--1

Readington Township, Hunterdon County, New Jersey has been the scene of a long-running battle between those who want the municipal government to seize 600+ acres of land surrounding Solberg Airport through eminent domain to preserve as "open space." The battle pits the majority of voters—based on a $22 million referendum allocating money for purchase—against a vocal minority who opposes it. The upcoming June 3 Republican primary will determine whether the balance of power has shifted. This is the second in a series of posts on the subject. The first is linked in "Related Reading".

Solberg Airport is situated smack in the center of my long-time home Readington Township, in the rural New Jersey county of Hunterdon. The airport was established by aviation pioneer Thor Solberg in 1941, and has operated without interruption by the Solberg family ever since.

In recent years, a large portion of the land surrounding Solberg—some 600+ acres—has been threatened with an eminent domain seizure by the township government, allegedly to head off airport expansion or sale to developers. The purpose; to preserve "open space"—with taxpayer dollars. As anyone familiar with liberty can readily detect, there are multiple violations of individual rights and abuse of government power evident in Readington.

Public attention to the "Solberg issue" has been contentious, but with ebbs and flows. The issue has been tied up in the courts for years, as the Solbergs have been forced to spend enormous amounts of their own money to battle the hefty tax-funded township assault. Lately, the public controversy has once again erupted from its slumber with a vengeance, as the upcoming June 3 Republican primary pits the spearheads of the drive against Solberg Airport, incumbent township committee members Mayor Julia Allen and Frank Gatti, against challengers John Broten and Sam Tropello, who seem to oppose the Solberg action (for wrong or futile reasons, but that's another post).

(Note: There are no Democrat challengers registered for the November election to run against the winners of the primary. So, the winners on June 3 are virtually assured of gaining the committee posts come November. In regard to the Readington Township committee, this is it.)

I've had plenty to say on the subject, and this will be the subject of my next several posts.

To start, let me reprint my letter-to-the-editor published in the Hunterdon County Democrat June 13, 2013. It is titled The government is abusing its legal powers in Readington:

In a May 21 article on NJ.com about Readington continuing it legal battles to keep land around Solberg Airport green, Renee Kiriluk-Hill reported that this year Readington has budgeted thousands of dollars for “legal expenses” related to this “battle,” as has been the case over the past eight years. She notes that, “The process is driven, in part, by a $22 million bond ordinance that voters approved in 2006.”

But not all voters approved of this bond issue, which underpins the efforts to seize the Solberg’s land through eminent domain. That there are voters who didn’t vote for the bond issue might seem obvious, but this fact deserves serious consideration.

I oppose eminent domain on moral grounds. Whether the purpose is to keep land “green” or to head off airport expansion, it is simply unjust to use government’s legal powers — essentially the power of the gun — to confiscate private land against the owner’s wishes. It is likewise unjust to force those who disagree to finance this outrage through their taxes.

Some would say to me, “That’s democracy, majority rules.” Yes, it is, and that is the most damning indictment of democracy: that it grants the majority the power to trample the rights and violate the consciences of the minority. The government should not have the power to impose any voting bloc’s desire to violate others’ rights.

Government’s proper purpose is to protect individual rights, including rights to property and freedom of conscience, from criminals who violate rights by initiating force or fraud. The legal assault against the Solbergs, being pursued under the veneer of false legitimacy accorded by democracy, turns the government’s very reason for being on its head.


Related Reading:

The Eminent Domain Assault by Readington Against Solberg Land is Democracy in Action—and Un-American

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