When it comes to building roads and bridges, the government can legally take your land – but is it being abused? 

January 24 – Let’s talk about eminent domain in Pennsylvania. It basically means that the government can legally take your land, even if you don’t want to sell it. 

If a road or bridge needs to be built, the government can do that over your property and claim it for the Commonwealth. It has to be used for some type of public works, and the government will apparently pay for the land, but stories have been cropping up of late where things may be looking a little shady. 

In fact, a PA governmental meeting this week talked about eminent domain.  

Michele Jansen of NewsTalk 103.7FM pointed out the discussion focused on “a couple instances that are happening I guess one was in the past where a businessman had to struggle with what happened to him when his business property was taken by eminent domain and how it took years to get things straightened out with all the costs of moving his business and changing the location and all the costs to his family. So even though he got some satisfaction in the end, it still wasn’t enough to cover all the costs that they endured and it took years’ toll on himself. Then there’s this latest issue with Route 322, I believe it is. It’s going to be going through potentially some farmer’s land where he’ll still have his land on either side of this, but it’s going to disrupt how he works. It’s going to take its toll on noise and other issues and there’s all kinds of questions about the soil and how valuable that land is. It just seems like there’s a lot of things not being taken into consideration when there’s just one effort by the government thinking this project needs to be done. But what is happening to these people whose land is taken?” 

State Senator Doug Mastriano explained, “I believe that farmer up in Centre County is Mr. Darlington and he testified that his family’s been here since the 1680s, came in with William Penn, had a farm granted to his family in the 1680s. That was their family farm until eminent domain I think in Delaware County twice came after them over the past couple of decades. So he eventually moves out west in Centre County and here he goes again. I mean the third time for this poor farmer. I mean nothing it seems like, even this ancient land from William Penn and now here he is in Centre County and he’s going to have his farm split in half. I’m not sure what kind of farm he has, but whether it’s crops or animals, it’s going to completely disrupt everything he does.”

One question is do the folks get fair market value for their property? 

Mastriano suggested, “These folks aren’t getting the fair market value and this is going back a few decades, but Rebbie’s grandfather was a World War I veteran, fought in the 42nd rainbow division under MacArthur, he was gassed, was in the thick of it, the Meuse Argonne campaign, so a lot of action, comes back takes over his family farm from the early 1800s. This is in Mercer County, and they decide they’re going to go ahead and put up a dam at the Shenango River because of the flooding. They give him pennies on the dollar and he dies destitute. Rebbie’s grandma, his wife, stops buying her heart meds because they can’t afford it because they lost their farm and their income and she dies, I believe prematurely. So we have this hero from World War I, on an ancient farm going back to the early 1800s and nothing seems to matter to the government. Actually they fought for about a decade against the government and one of the people leading the project was like we’re just going to wait you out. Eventually we’ll get politicians in power who will do our bidding, and we’ll get you out of here. So we went and visited. One of Rebbie’s sisters is a real estate agent, and the land that he used to be on now, most of it above water, and it’s worth millions of dollars and he got nothing for it. I think eminent domain is thrown around too brashly and I don’t think that the landowners are getting the value of their land. We heard from the one business owner you mentioned, who spent I think a decade of his life on legal cases, completely threw his life in disarray and this is unsatisfactory. This is another case where the government just throws its weight around to too freely.”

Pat Ryan of NewsTalk 103.7FM said, “And it just goes on and on and on and you’re trying to make do and trying to make rent and trying to make payroll and you don’t have the time where they have endless resources and they just drag it out. You’re right, Doug, it’s not fair.”