Property owners who face government condemnation of their land rallied at the statehouse Monday. They want Iowa lawmakers to return for a special session to override Governor Tom Vilsack’s veto of a bill that limited city and county governments’ ability to seize property and turn it over for private development.
Mahaska County farmer Bob Rouwenhorst says it means the City of Pella can confiscate his land for an airport — something he’s been fighting for three years. “This land was purchased by the hard work and sweat and tears of my parents,” he says. “My parents are no longer living, but my mother said to me several times: ‘Never sell the farm.'”
Rouwenhorst promised his mother he wouldn’t sell the farm, but he says he’s now fighting a battle with a Pella “corporation” that wants to “land its corporate jet” at a new airstrip in Pella rather than landing it 27 miles away in Newton. Rouwenhorst was one of about 35 property owners who gathered on the steps of the state capitol to tell their stories.
Doug Robbins of Osceola says no one is safe until government’s “eminent domain” authority is limited. “You can have your property condemned at any time in the name of development,” Robins says. Three hundred acres of farmland and the home owned by Robins’ father is being condemned for a lake project. “This is a farm that he has worked very hard over the past 36 years to improve,” Robins says.
Rich Tuttle is a Madison County landowner whose property is targeted for submersion in another lake. “Almost 40 families from Madison County are being threatened by a lake. There’s going to be 25 homes go under water…and thousands of acres of productive farm ground lost,” he says. “This is at the benefit of deep-pocketed politicians and businesses who can make profit off the land we lose so that they can make millions.”
Page County farmer Brian Walker of Essex says a proposed lake may take away 80 percent of his farming operation. “Look around. If you think it can’t happen to you, think again,” Walker says. “All that has to happen is someone with the right connections and enough money to convince local public officials that they have a better use for your property.”
Republicans in the legislature would vote to override the governor’s veto of the bill that limited governmental “eminent domain” power to condemn and transfer property to private developers, but Democrats say they want to work with their Democrat Governor, Tom Vilsack, to rewrite the bill. Vilsack says the bill he vetoed would interfere with economic development projects and dampen job-creation efforts.