As anyone who’s read this blog for a while knows, I’m not a big fan of eminent domain. The fact of the matter is that it’s a necessary process, at times, but it should be the absolutely, positively last resort taken. And it should only be considered in the case of a true public good that can’t be provided in any other reasonable manner.
Case in point would be a road to connect communities that are not served by any other roadway and there’s no way to do so without building a road that would go a hundred miles out of the way. Or if the road that existed already needed to be turned from an intersection to an interchange to handle critical regional traffic. Those are examples of a true public good but they are not reasons, unto them themselves, to use eminent domain right off the bat. Every reasonable attempt must be made to buy the land and the government should not expect to get that land at below market value prices.
The issue that came to my attention today is that of the Rainville family of Vermont, specifically of their farm nestled right up against the border of Canada.
The Rainville farm sits on the Morses Line border crossing, a sparsely used two lane blacktop with an aging Customs and Border Protection building that the Department of Homeland Security wants to modernize and expand. The agency plans to use stimulus funds to build a new $8 million dollar, multi-lane complex, and says it needs the nearly five acres of the Rainville’s farmland to complete it.
The Rainvilles say the project will put their farm out of business. With the farm losing money, every inch of land is needed, especially the land they use to grow hay to support their cows for the production of milk.
The crossing is lightly used. Government statistics from the Customs and Border Protection agency show just over 14,800 vehicles cross the border every year. That works out to about 40 cars a day, or roughly two and a half an hour. The crossing is not even open 24 hours a day. Brian thinks it should be closed completely, and the traffic moved to larger crossings nearby. But the government is intent on upgrading the facility, which includes the small customs building built in the 1930’s, that sports a small bench with handcuffs.
“The Morses Line Port is more than seventy years old and has dilapidated infrastructure and outdated technology,” said Customs and Border Protection spokesman Rafael Lemaitre in a statement to Fox News.
OK, so we have a border crossing that needs to be updated but that’s getting the cart before the horse, frankly. The 1st question that should be answered is whether we need that crossing at all. Based on the rate of use, I’d say we’re getting along fairly well using other crossings, but how far away are those? Well if you look to the east, you see the crossing via Vermont Highway 108, just 10.6 miles away from the Morse’s Line crossing near the Rainville farm. If you drove from the farm to that crossing, it’s going to take an estimated 18 minutes to make the drive. Hardly a serious burden. Looking to the west, however, you see the even larger crossing at I-89. That’s 16.8 miles from Morse’s Line, just 22 minutes away. In short, there are perfectly good crossings within a 30-minute drive in either direction and those drive times assume you’re already up there at the crossing when you start. If you start at points significantly to the south, the diversion over to one of those alternates would likely only add a few minutes to your drive.
I do not see that the Morse’s Line crossing is so critical to our nation’s commerce and mobility that keeping it is work taking 5 acres of private property from a citizen who’s only wish is to farm it in peace. This is a bad call by DHS and they should reverse course. Close down the crossing, take that money and spend it updating the other 2 crossings I mentioned instead.