Skip to comments.Property owners fear land grabs in Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge expansion plan
Posted on 09/04/2010 9:12:34 AM PDT by Qbert
A proposal to vastly expand the acquisition boundary of the Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge has provoked passionate objections from landowners who feel they haven't been adequately notified about the plan and fear the expansion proposal could force them into giving up their land.
Julia Sosebee said she didn't find out about the proposal until this week and has no interest in selling land that has been in her family since before the Civil War.
"We don't have a price anyone can pay me," she said. "You can't put a price on that."
CRNWR Refuge manager Stephen Miller said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has no intention or interest in acquiring land owners don't want to sell.
Being included in the acquisition area would have no effect on the rights of property owners to keep, develop and pass down their property, Miller said. "I just want to alleviate the fear as much as I can. Eminent domain will not occur under this proposal," he said.
Miller, along with other Fish and Wildlife officials, will be hosting a town meeting tonight from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Brent Elementary School gymnasium, 160 4th Street in Brent.
The service currently is authorized to buy land in a 7,600-acre area in Bibb County and owns 3,600 acres. The proposal would expand the acquisition area by 106,415 acres. On an additional 173,380 acres, the service would be able to buy development rights to create conservation easements along the Cahaba River.
The underlying idea is to protect the river, which is home to 64 rare and imperiled plant and animal species. The Cahaba, with 131 species of fish, has more species than any other river its size in North America. But development, particularly upstream in Shelby and Jefferson counties, is increasing the amount of sediment in the river, which threatens aquatic life.
Miller said he regrets that landowners feel they haven't been informed about the plans and, even though the public comment period is set to expire Tuesday, the process can be extended.
"We will take as long as we need," he said. "We want to be a good neighbor."
Responding to landowner outrage, U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus, who sponsored the original legislation creating the refuge in 2000, is urging the Fish and Wildlife Service to slow down.
"Our congressional legislation was the result of a lengthy process that took the views of all parties along the Cahaba River into account," Bachus said. "To maintain the support that the refuge has had, it is critical that the Fish and Wildlife Service not rush this new proposal to adoption. There are issues that will require input from many stakeholders, including those upstream."
Much of the unease from landowners stems from a paragraph in the proposal that acknowledges that the service, like all federal agencies, has the power of eminent domain. But the power is "seldom used" and requires congressional approval. The service usually acquires lands from willing sellers, the proposal reads.
Pete Jerome -- who supervises Fish and Wildlife Service refuges in North and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico -- said that, in his 32 years with the service, he never has heard of the service using eminent domain to take property from an unwilling seller.
"I am not familiar with any case in which we have used hostile condemnation," he said. "We don't use it and we don't plan to use it." Brett Hunter, deputy refuge supervisor, said a search of records for the past 15 years finds no use of eminent domain by the service in the Southeast.
The service's official national policy is to buy land on a "willing seller basis" only, he said. However, he said there may be instances in which the service has used eminent domain to buy land from a willing seller for legal purposes such as clearing title or establishing boundaries.
But Jim Noles, a Balch &amp;amp;amp;amp; Bingham lawyer who has been engaged to represent some landowners, said landowners have a right to be concerned with the language in the document. If the service wants to change minds, revisions need to be made, he said.
"Specific written clarification would probably be a step in the right direction," Noles said.
But too much focus on the hot button issue of eminent domain diverts attention from other pressing concerns, Noles said.
If the refuge were to fill out the boundaries of the acquisition area, it would be larger than any other refuge in the state. Wheeler Refuge in Decatur is 34,500 acres. Eufaula National Wildlife is 11,184 acres. The current refuge is staffed by Miller's service office in Atlanta, which has just one employee beyond Miller.
Noles said people are concerned that there is no clear provision to add staff to manage additional acreage that would be open to the public.
"Neighboring landowners should be concerned," he said. Roger Brothers, a Bibb County vocational education teacher, is a fan of the current refuge and doesn't oppose an expansion, but he is concerned that the proposal is too large.
By Brothers' estimate, it could cover one-fourth of Bibb County's timberland. While the service would continue to offer timber for harvest, it would move toward longleaf pine, which takes longer to grow than other pine species.
"That has got to cost some jobs to take that much land out of production," said Brothers, who teaches forestry and wildlife management.
It also could result in the loss of hunting area. While hunting is allowed on the current refuge, it is restricted to bow hunting. The proposal suggests that acquired lands could be opened to public hunting, but it doesn't specify under what terms.
According to service officials, the larger area under consideration may never be acquired, and any acquisitions that do take place would take place over decades as money is appropriated by Congress.
The idea of the large acquisition area was to cast a wide net that would expand the pool of possible willing sellers.
The service sent out press releases describing the proposal and sent out mailings in July, but the news of the proposal did not circulate widely.
In August, the service extended the public comment period into September, ran a legal notice in The Birmingham News and scheduled tonight's meeting.
Sosbee and other landowners said they have been supportive of the current refuge, have long been good environmental stewards of the land, and care about the river. But the current proposal has upset them.
"It has been rushed out and there are lot of unanswered questions," she said.
Land grabs are not an exclusively western problem.
The state game area near my home is full of old house and barn foundations from when the land was grabbed during the depression.
TRANSLATION - Yes, congress has just passed another piece of legislation that targets your land as a parcel of interest and enables the federal government to take it from you whenever it wishes. But that’s no reason for alarm, since we don’t have any immediate plans to do so.
Question of the month - What federal agency will be the next to be granted power of eminent domain?
They don’t need eminent domain unless they intend to build something on the land. They just use regulations to restrict use of the land for anything except what is consistent with the refuge. They might grandfather current landowners but could easily restrict their ability to sell, develop or devise the land to future generations. Thus, the landowner is responsible for the land in terms of taxes and liability but must maintain it as an integral part of the refuge. It’s a taking without a taking.
“Land grabs are not an exclusively western problem.”
And I think this problem will only increase...
“They dont need eminent domain unless they intend to build something on the land. They just use regulations to restrict use of the land for anything except what is consistent with the refuge. They might grandfather current landowners but could easily restrict their ability to sell, develop or devise the land to future generations. Thus, the landowner is responsible for the land in terms of taxes and liability but must maintain it as an integral part of the refuge. Its a taking without a taking.”
I’m guessing this was what the attorney in the article was alluding to in his quote.
In some states the Federal Government already owns a high percentage of the land. The federal government doesn’t need any more land. End of story.
Land that has remained in the hands of private ownership should remain there.
This government of ours knows no boundaries. It’s mammoth and getting more-so. Perhaps that’s because it’s no longer our government.
It is now the overlord. Get out of the way peons... here it comes.
There are lots of little tricks used by state and federal government to get property.
The company that was responsible of the Kalamazoo river oil spill in Michigan (Endbridge) was forced to buy properties along the river. There were only two sellers but Endbridge has no desire to own that property. It will end up in the hands of the state.
The state and feds have become extra aggressive about tax seizures in my area because I live next to the Raisin river. The land appears to end up under the control of the raisin river land trust. They don’t officially own any land but nothing is ever built on it again. Hundreds of homes (Including my own) have been reclassified into flood zones despite the no known history of flooding.
That’s another tactic. Make land ownership so onerous that people will gladly sell, to the government or some “nature conservancy”. And they don’t have to pay fair market value as in eminent domain.
Wonder what things would be like now if the rules of old were only land owners could vote?.
That would be heartbreaking to my train nut husband. But it is a fact that government can make your life and exercise of constitutional rights quite miserable.
I happen to be a fan of wilderness and wildlife refuges, so long as the government respects private property rights. The "willing seller" threshold for acquisitions is one of these provisions. I see no reason to doubt that they will do so in this case.
Well as long as you’re comfortable with it. LOL
I don’t think looking at the previous record is any guarantee when the culture of the agency has changed, and different people are running things. (Just ask the auto dealers, who “willingly” returned the forms giving up their dealerships to the Feds)
Radical environmentalists like Great Lakes Czar, Cameron Davis are running the show. They have little interest in private property or personal rights.
I love our state and national parks as much as anyone but we have enough. When private lands become property of government, they also come off the books as far as taxation is concerned and that drives taxes up for the rest of us.