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On January 9, Bill and Norma Jarnigan were shocked to open a letter from the Jefferson County Economic Development Oversight Committee (EDOC) that laid out the county government’s blatant attempt to cajole the couple into selling their home of four decades. The county hopes to acquire their land and hand it over to a developer to build an industrial manufacturing megasite the county hopes will bring more jobs and tax revenue than the Jarnigan’s home. Opening such a letter certainly did not brighten the day of 68-year-old Mrs. Jarnigan, who stated, “I’d hate to think I’d have to move, me as old as I am.”

Meanwhile, at a press conference held that very afternoon, Jefferson County officials were unveiling plans for the East Tennessee Regional Megasite to be located on an 1800-acre tract of land where the Jarnigan’s and their neighbors’ homes currently stand. The press conference was all smiles, with claims being made that the Megasite could “provide 2,000 direct jobs and 6,000 to 8,000 indirect jobs in the initial phase,” and further that “It would have a very wide and broad impact” for the Jefferson County economy (all such claims assuming that the site could first be purchased, then certified, and finally bought by a corporation, none of which are even remotely certain at this point).

Jefferson County is no stranger to wanting land that isn’t theirs. In 1942, the construction of the Douglas Dam by the Tennessee Valley Authority, a federal New Deal corporation formed to provide “economic redevelopment” to the Tennessee Valley region, permanently flooded a majority of the county’s most fertile farmland. If it had not been for county residents personally petitioning then-first Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, the current Jefferson County seat of Dandridge would not exist—at least above water.

Seventy years later, the “megasite” announcement is the latest government instance of threatening Jefferson County farmland and the rights of property owners. But not to worry, says Garrett Wagley, director of economic development for the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce. The county is “really committed to an open process, and having a conversation about the plans…[for] this exciting opportunity.” Thank heavens these landowners received letters encouraging them to pony up…er, rather, sell their land mere hours before the EDOC’s press conference.

Just a few days after the unveiling of the “megasite” plans, property owners in the megasite’s potential footprint voiced their outrage at the prospect of the government seizing their land. Oliver and Jean Wood, proud owners of a 590-acre farm who received the same letter as the Jarnigan’s last week, boldly asserted that they would not surrender their farm for any price. Mr. Wood pointed out that city officials “have not taken into account the economic costs and the human costs of taking away century-old farms and disrupting lives.”

Wagley stated that “he hoped the issue of eminent domain would not come up,” but hope is a cheap thing relative to a megasite project with a million dollar price tag being sold to so many private landowners as an “exciting opportunity.” Encouragingly for property rights activists everywhere, however, citizens like the Woods and the Jarnigans are not taking the government’s phony bait.

Tennessee has a sordid history of abusing eminent domain in the name of “economic development.” The state’s eminent domain laws received a big fat grade of D- from the Institute for Justice for failing to ensure that property rights are adequately protected.

–Robert Fountain
This Article if from the Institute for Justice
See more here: http://www.ij.org/one-hundred-tennessee-property-owners-under-threat-for-nebulous-megasite-development

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