I have always felt a defined hatred for the concept of eminent domain. The thought that the government can forcefully take your property from you seems to be the definition of Un-American. In St. Louis City we have seen eminent domain used for transportation improvements such as as the Highway 40 (I-64) project and new housing developments such as the creation of Botanical Heights neighborhood in old McKree Town. We have also seen eminent domain successfully fought off (so far) in the Bohemian Hill area near Lafayette Square. I have always hated its use and cheered for the underdog property owners in the fight, but never really got involved. Until now that is.
I’m jumping a little out of the St. Louis area for this one (about 100 miles actually), but its pertinent. My family owns about 550 acres in Central Missouri along Route 63. It’s half way between Rolla and Jefferson City in a town call Vienna. You might know it from cutting through along Route 42 to the Lake of the Ozarks. The reason I mention this is that our little secluded paradise will in all likelihood be right next to a realigned Route 63 within the next few years.
For years there has been talk that MODOT might one day straighten out the highway in our area, but it has been idle talk for over twenty years. Rumors started growing a bit more serious lately so I did a bit of research and it turns out that plans to move the road are almost finalized. This move would shift the highway about a mile and half to butt up against the property that has been in my family for over 100 years. The best part is that nobody bothered to tell us.
Despite the significant implications for our family, the state never bothered to let us know what was going on throughout the planning process. I have a lot of extended family that live in the area full-time and none of them knew about it either. There have been public meetings on the subject in the past few years, but the effort to contact affected citizens has been ridiculous. At this point there is still time to make a feeble attempt to stop these plans, but it appears to be too little too late.
The worst part is that this whole effort seems to cut off a couple minutes from the commute for truckers cutting from Jefferson City to Rolla. I drive on the road often and see no need for this change or the new lanes promised. Its just another case of over-expanding roads by the state, which entices more sprawl into an area that is otherwise relatively isolate.
And since our property is not actually in the path of the proposed road, merely next to it, we probably (99.999% sure) won’t be offered any sort of financial compensation for the change. At $2000 an acre our property is probably worth about $1,100,000. Maybe more since we have a lot of property fronting the Gasconade River and good hunting areas. But when this road goes in, the value of the property is going to go down. The quiet seclusion offered by our location and the prime n areas will be affected. This will in turn affect the value of the property, yet there won’t be a dime paid to us in compensation. Same goes for all the property owners around us. Some of them will even have their property taken away from them or cut in half by this change. The state will waste a couple hundred million dollars on this project and hurt Missouri property owners for some reason only known by the powers that be.
I know cases like this don’t excite people as much as the use of eminent domain to turn over property to private developers like in McKree Town or Bohemian Hill, but it seems unjust nonetheless. I am obviously biased, but there is no excuse for the state not notifying potentially impacted property owners. I am going to fight this thing in every way I can, but regardless of how things end up, I will be even more sympathetic to the use of eminant domain in the St. Louis area in the future. If you come across any eminant domain threats in St. Louis City that I don’t mention in this blog, please let me know. I want to raise awareness about this issue in the future. The next time you hear a story about someones property being taken away through eminent domain, don’t just shrug it off. You might be next.