Michigan Land Use Institute

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Don't Put Property Above Safety

A harrowing agenda takes hold

March 10, 1997 | By Keith Schneider
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution says that "just compensation" must be paid when property is taken for public purposes. The Engler Administration, however, is reformulating that mandate to include restrictions on property designed to safeguard human health and natural resources. In such cases, according to the Administration, property owners are entitled to maximal taxpayer-funded payments.

To date, this extremist view of property rights law has been used primarily to aid industrial interests in environmental cases. At the Governor’s urging, the state paid out nearly $100 million in taxpayer funds to a Traverse City oil company and a group of mineral owners who were barred from drilling in the Nordhouse Dunes wilderness near Ludington. The precedent, and the amount of the settlement, has been cited by the DEQ as justification for its kid glove handling of a private businessman who wants to drill a well in the undeveloped, spectacular Jordan Valley.


Now the harmful results of this one-sided interpretation of property rights law are showing up in places like Manistee County, where residents are told that their safety is less of a priority to our state’s government than an oil company’s right to make some money.

Isn’t it the primary responsibility of government to protect its citizens? In nearly any other state capitol, there would be no question that life-threatening industrial practices have no place in residential neighborhoods. In Michigan, however, it’s all been turned upside down. Here property rights come before safety.

So in Filer Township officials are depleting their treasury to protect citizens from state actions. Dangerous wells continue to operate there. At least 15 people have been injured. The threat is real, not theoretical. Nothing in the annals of American jurisprudence, or common sense, justifies such an abandonment of governmental responsibility.

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