By William H. Mellor
The St. Paul Port Authority is pursuing a scheme that could gut Minnesota’s popular 2006 comprehensive eminent domain reforms that protect homes, small businesses, and farms from government takings for private gain. In mid-September 2008, the Port Authority announced its intention to take the property of Advance Shoring Company, a successful business that has operated for generations in St. Paul, to make way for a private development project that amounts to questionable real estate speculation with $10 million in public subsidies.
Advance CEO Karen Haug and her supporters are demanding that the St. Paul City Council stop the Port Authority’s reckless and illegal condemnation of her property. For nearly 20 years, the Port Authority has coveted the Haug family’s property in St. Paul and sought to hand it over to someone else for private economic development.
Since its founding in 1960 by Haug’s father, Advance has played an instrumental role in leasing cranes, scaffolding, and concrete forming equipment used in the construction and restoration of landmarks in the Twin Cities, including the Xcel Energy Center, the Cathedral of St. Paul and, currently, Regions Hospital. As Haug has said, “You cannot look at St. Paul’s skyline without seeing the contribution that our family business has made.”
The Port Authority claims that it is taking Haug’s land to remediate contaminants. The key thing to keep in mind, however, when it comes to the Port Authority’s trumped-up environmental claims is that Karen Haug’s property complies with all Minnesota Pollution Control Agency directives. If her property is left alone, any minor environmental concern that may exist can be easily and cost-effectively solved with private funds, which Karen is ready to invest, rather than with millions of dollars of taxpayer money, which is what the Port Authority proposes. The Port Authority’s environmental red herring is merely an excuse to use eminent domain to take Karen’s land for its real goal, namely, creating yet another generic ‘business center’ redevelopment project.
Minnesotans overwhelmingly support eminent domain reform; they oppose eminent domain for private gain.
Elected officials across the nation are taking property rights more seriously since the infamous Kelo ruling in 2005. The St. Paul City Council should do likewise to protect the rightful property of their residents. The council should not rubberstamp this eminent domain taking and give the Port Authority private property for someone else’s private development, robbing from Peter so it can give to St. Paul.
William H. (Chip ) Mellor serves as President and General Counsel of the Institute for Justice, which he co-founded, and is a board member of PERC. Chip can be reached at WMellor@ij.org