Sunday, November 17, 2013

Eminent domain: rights and responsibilities - the Peter O'Connor commentary

“Eminent Domain” is the “right” of the State to acquire private property for some public purpose. The law of eminent domain is not as harsh as it appears on first glance, because the State must pay the private owners a fair value for the property they are taking.

There are two issues of eminent domain ongoing in public discussion right now. Indeed there are probably dozens of negotiations and acquisitions ongoing all the time, but two have grabbed our attention and have become issues of protest and conflict. 

Most people who are involved in such issues tend to be set in their ways—either pro the projects and the “progress” for which the land is being acquired, or against projects generally, for environmental or emotional reasons. And these two camps tend to be pretty consistent in their behaviour over a range of such projects.

I find myself in the position of supporting one of these projects, and condemning the other. And indeed maybe it should be so, none of us should really hold to positions so steadfastly that the wider good cannot be achieved, or the wider wrong must prevail.

The two projects are the proposed Highway to Point Fortin and the proposed Sporting Complex in Macoya. While the Macoya issue may not really be one of “eminent domain”, in that government already owns the playing field and green space upon which they plan to build the complex and car parks, and therefore do not have to pay or remove the protestors or owners. But the issues of loss of enjoyment, lack of consultation and the like remain.

I support the construction of the Highway, along the planned route, because I believe that it will bring major benefits to the wider communities of Penal, Siparia, Fyzabad, La Brea and Point Fortin and beyond. 

When this highway was announced by Eric Williams in his final Budget Speech in January 1981, I supported its construction, but doubted it would ever begin. Well, some thirty years later it began, and in those thirty years the lives of people in the Southwest Peninsula became progressively worse in terms of traffic and transport issues. 

While several successive governments failed to find the will to begin this important artery to our petroleum communities, they built highways elsewhere, without dispute, acquiring lands in Diego Martin, along the Uriah Butler Highway, the Churchill Roosevelt Highway and in the vicinity of “the Interchange”.

I support the route of the highway because I see no other practical route, and no real options like upgrading the network of rural roads in the Debe area. The other possible routes, as opposed to small road networks, could only be across the Oropouche Swamp or in the sea at Mosquito Creek. 

And I am appalled at the destruction of mangrove along the Creek—this being the preferred route of the HRM. I believe that upon completion the highway would have removed sufficient traffic from the “Creek” to allow it to remain as it is-- a scenic drive along a strip of coast. But it was decided to destroy the mangroves, deprive subsistence crab catchers of income, and apparently aggravate the tidal flooding of the road.

While I sympathize with the people who are objecting, especially those whose homes and farms will be relocated, I maintain that not building the highway will continue to cause more inconvenience to a greater number of persons than building the highway.

So if I feel this way about the highway, how can I speak against the construction of a sports complex in Macoya? How similar are the issues?

The Highway passes through relatively sparsely populated rural areas and communities. It will serve these communities as well as the whole southwest peninsula. Yes it will cause dislocation and inconvenience to some, just as the Diego Martin Highway caused to several, but they will be compensated for their inconvenience. But thousands of people will find their lives improved and I believe that the presence of the highway will open new commercial opportunities to several communities.

The Macoya Complex, while it displaces no homes, is being planned in the only green open space in a relatively high density suburban community. It is a “local” sports complex, not a national one, and the residents do not want it. These is ample space just next door, south of the CR Highway (it should take the place of that National Embarrassment of a proposed Steel Band Centre!) which can and should accommodate development in the area.

We are a stubborn people, who are divided into groups who are either “for everything” regardless of the consequences, or “against everything” regardless of real needs. We have a right and a duty to express these opinions, and I divide mine on these two controversial projects.

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Jai & Sero

Jai & Sero

Our family at home in Toronto 2008

Our family at home in Toronto 2008
Amit, Heather, Fuzz, Aj, Jiv, Shiva, Rampa, Sero, Jai