In the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, 45 minutes west of Charlottesville, Va., stands an isolated chimney. There is no house to be kept warm by the chimney, and there are no people to gather wood for a fire. The houses and the families who lived in them for generations are long gone. As for the chimney, it is a newly erected memorial to the people who once lived here and who were driven off their land by government decree.
The creation of the Shenandoah National Park in the 1930s was an ugly business. To make way for the park, some 3,000 tracts of land were either purchased or condemned by the Commonwealth of Virginia and turned over to the federal government. In the process, at least 500 families were uprooted and told to resettle elsewhere. The displaced were deemed expendable – collateral damage sacrificed in the name of what was said to be a higher good.
Honoring the Displaced
The Blue Ridge Heritage Project, a nonprofit group of volunteers dedicated to honoring the memory of the families displaced by the park, has placed a plaque in front of the chimney on which is inscribed the last names of those who were expelled. All told, eight Virginia counties had residents who were sent packing, including Albemarle, Augusta, Greene, Madison, Page, Rappahannock, Rockingham, and Warren. The Blue Ridge Heritage Project plans activities in all eight counties to remind people of what happened here 80 years ago.
In an odd twist of fate, the good work of the Blue Ride Heritage Project coincides with another development that threatens landowners in some of the same counties. Only this time, the threat comes not from the U.S. Park Service, but from eminent domain in the hands of a company determined to force its way onto private land.
Richmond-based energy giant Dominion Resources is spearheading a project to construct a $5 billion, 560-mile pipeline that will transport natural gas from West Virginia through Virginia and into North Carolina. Dominion estimates that some 2,700 landowners could be directly affected by the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP). Once the final path of the ACP has been determined, Dominion has said it is prepared to use the power of eminent domain to get the land it says it needs for the pipeline.
The Blunt Instrument of Eminent Domain
Dominion’s threat to use the blunt instrument of eminent domain for the project is all the more appalling, because there is ample land available for the ACP on pre-existing right of ways that closely correspond to the pipeline’s proposed route.
Eminent domain is a rigged game in which landowners have no choice but to accept whatever offer – no matter how puny – is made to them. Because the pipeline’s route through Central Virginia would traverse prime agricultural land (agriculture is Virginia’s leading industry), farmers in its path will see their property irreversibly devalued. A grassroots group, Americans for Private Property, Energy, and Landowners (APPEAL), www.notaking.org, is doing yeoman’s work alerting citizens to the threat eminent domain poses to them.
Having a state-of-the-art energy infrastructure, including oil and gas pipelines, is essential to maintaining our prosperity. Protecting our property rights is essential to preserving our liberty. Dominion and its partners should recognize that the two are not incompatible and pledge not to use eminent domain in the construction of the ACP.
Failing to take the pledge, and forcing its way onto the property of unwilling sellers, is no way for Dominion to build a pipeline. One wonders if, eighty years from now, another group of volunteers will be putting up memorials in Virginia to the victims of eminent domain.
Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D., is a senior policy analyst with CFACT.