Not In My Front Yard!

If you want some unintended comic relief on eminent domain, don’t miss M. O. Walsh, Sewer Project Blues, New York Times Magazine, Jan. 9, 2011, at p. 50. The author, who identifies himself as a recently unemployed professor, takes umbrage at seeing some guys from a city contractor in his front yard, whacking away at vegetation and driving stakes to mark the right of way for a new sewage line, being as the old one has gone kaput, causing repeated sewage spills that at times reached “unspeakable” proportions.

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But never mind all that. Sewage or no sewage, Professor Walsh will have none of that. “You can’t just come into my yard,” said he, and he spent “the rest of the day leaving scathing telephone messages with the manager of the contracting company whose name is on the side of the truck, sounding like someone I don’t want to be.”

Until I read this childish tantrum, I did not fully appreciate some of the nonsense that condemnors have to put up with. What did this fellow want? Continuing sewage inundations of his yard? Not likely. Did he want to get paid for the trespass and the taking of a sewer easement over his land? Probably. The Constitution guarantees him that much, but the subject of filthy lucre is never mentioned in his article. So what does he want? Beats us.

Certainly, one would think that Walsh was entitled to due process of law, like notice and an opportunity to be heard, before the contractor’s lads went to work on his lawn. We think so too, but hey man, this is eminent domain wherein the U.S. Supreme Court has held that property owners whose property is being taken for public use, are not entitled to such constitutional frippery, and their remedy — if that is what it is — is to hire a lawyer and an appraiser, and to sue in inverse condemnation. As the U.S. Courts of Appeal for the 5th and 9th Circuit have put it, the government can just seize your land and say “sue me.”

To cap it all off, Walsh informs his readers that he voted for this project, but that little detail seems of no importance to him. He resents the fact that he is out of a job while “these guys are getting paid to tear up our yard.”

So what is Walsh’s point? We have no idea. Nor do we have a clue as to why as prestgious a publication as the New York Time Magazine would waste its prime journalistic real estate (the entire last page) on such pointless super-NIMBY drivel.

But hey man, that’s how it goes these days.