published Thursday, May 31st, 2012

Marion County officials vow: No eminent domain

JASPER, Tenn. -- Whether the threat of Marion County declaring eminent domain on her property is real or just perceived, Sequatchie resident Edna Fults has vowed to fight it.

Eminent domain allows governments to take private property without the owner's consent by fairly compensating the owner.

In such situations, the property normally is set aside for some kind of public use like a new road, but it can be handed over to a private organization to promote economic growth, officials said.

Fults said the issue came up at a recent county planning commission meeting concerning a proposed privately funded aquatic farm in an area where she owns property.

Last week, she gave Marion County commissioners a straightforward warning.

"I'm against anyone [trying to use eminent domain] on my property to promote someone's private industry," she said to commissioners. "I will fight you."

County Commission Chairman Les Price said he was not aware the county ever had used eminent domain.

"It's certainly rare," he said.

In fact, County Mayor John Graham said, the process had been used at least once when a federal program built concrete bridges across the Sequatchie River many years ago.

"They [used eminent domain] when they couldn't reach an agreement [with the property owners]," he said.

Commissioner Marshall Raines said he never would declare eminent domain for private organizations.

"I sit on that planning commission, and I haven't been involved in anything like that," he said. "It hasn't been brought to my attention that we're going to try to take anybody's property."

Raines said Fults should have no worries about him.

"You don't have to worry about me taking your property," he told her. "I never have, and I don't have any intention of doing it now."

Commissioner Louin Campbell, also a member of the county planning commission, said he recalled the issue coming up at a recent meeting.

"I said in the meeting that there's no way I would ever do that," he said. "I don't know of any commissioner that would."

Price said he didn't think eminent domain was an issue right now.

"We understand [Fults'] concern at this point," he said.

Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at ryanlewis34@gmail.com.

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