A bill passed in the Iowa House that would limit the authority of local governments to condemn private property is having trouble gaining support in the Senate. Senate Democrats say they have concerns about a section of the bill that makes it more difficult for a city or county to acquire land for drinking water.
Representative Jeff Kaufmann, a Republican from Wilton, says there’s the potential for local governments to misuse the condemnation law and he believes that’s happening with a lake development project in Madison County. He says there are many other examples besides that one in Madison County and the potential for many others, where “in the guise of drinking water, we’re going to put condos around a lake and drowned out hundred year old farms.”
Kauffman says he sees the bill as a protection rather than a barrier to development. Kauffman says he understands the need for projects to create drinking water sources. Kaufmann says he doesn’t have a problem with the drinking water, he has a problem with the condos that surround the “drinking water,” and the skiing that follows. He says some of the drinking water projects are a small piece of what is private economic development.
But Senator Herman Quirmbach, a Democrat from Ames, says without the ability to take land for public good, cities would be hamstrung. Quirmbach points out a case in Ames where a developer wanted to build houses around an old quarry the city used for a backup drinking water supply. Quirmbach, a former Ames City Councilman, says the development would’ve ruined the water quality.
Quirmbach says they didn’t use eminent domain in the case, but he says had this bill been law, he could see how the developer could’ve held the issue up in court for years. Or Quirmbach says the developer could’ve forced the city to pay well beyond market value for the land. Quirmbach says Democrats want to provide more protection for property owners, but he says there needs to be an exception for cities so they can secure a good water supply.
Quirmbach says Iowa has droughts every decade or so and when a drought comes, water is an issue of local security “as important as any national security issue you can think of.” Kauffman says he’ll work with Quirmbach to try and find a compromise on the condemnation bill that takes into account the needs of local governments and the rights of property owners. Both lawmakers made their comments on a program on KUNI radio.