P.O. Box 75, Stony Creek, New York 12878 - 518/696-5748
The right to own private property is a fundamental American freedom that
guarantees personal liberty and promotes economic prosperity.
Do you remember these words?
On the Fourth of July, we read aloud The Declaration of Independence. As I recited this sentence from the list of grievances, I was struck at how precisely it describes powerful legal establishments that today are intrinsic to government here in New York State and in the United States of America. I concentrated on maintaining my holiday demeanor as we painfully continued through the reading.
King George III's imposition of "unusual, uncomfortable, and distant" legislative bodies reminded me of the Adirondack Park Agency, established by the New York State Legislature in 1973 and presided over by governor-appointed commissioners in a distant prison town named Ray Brook in the High Peaks region of the Adirondack Mountains. The people here in Stony Creek in the southeastern corner of the foothills of the Adirondacks live two to three hours away from the offices of this all-powerful governing body.
During the five to six months of winter, the often winding, steep roads to Ray Brook are dangerous and isolated. Although the existence of the Adirondack Park Agency hangs like a dark cloud over the consciousness of people all over the region, no members of the public attend the monthly commission meetings except the representatives of the conveniently located, powerful environmental groups; an occasional representative of the 100-plus local towns included in the agency jurisdiction; an occasional local activist; a few local reporters; and a tiny fraction of the immediately affected individuals suffering with enforcement actions and permit applications.
If a local citizen arrives promptly at 9:00 a.m., he or she is allowed a maximum of two minutes to address the commission, who look bored, shuffle papers, or even leer in disdain, but invited guests drone on interminably to the rapt attention of the commissioners about environmental philosophy and planning schemes.
The agency was designed to have a repressive geographical jurisdiction, based impracticably on the geology of the Adirondack Mountains as an uplifted Precambrian dome, rather than being designed on the basis of the four or five commercial regions into which human activity in the region has naturally fallen, or on the basis of a few groups of nearby counties from the twelve that are wholly or partly included in the so-called "park," or on the basis of several clusters of towns from the more than one hundred of this basic governmental unit included in the "park."
The agency's inaccessible location and anti-human jurisdictional bounds succeed in preventing unified participation, if such were theoretical possible, by the subjects of the agency's realm. This is a very successful repressive scheme, and in important feature combined with the powers of the agency and its companion entity, the State Department of Environmental Conservation, in the continual assault on the economy and the viability of the population of the region through regulation and acquisition of private land for government ownership and preservation.
In the technical jargon of preservation-oriented land use planning, the Adirondack Park Agency is engaged in "landscape preservation," and is a "greenway," a usually large, linear region that combines land use regulation with government land acquisition for parks and wilderness restoration purposes.
An example of a successful linear greenway is the Hudson River greenway in New York, thrice designated for landscape preservation, under the state-legislated "Hudson River Greenway Communities Council" (which was actually presided over for years by a director established by law in the Executive Department but whose salary was paid by a Rockefeller charity rather than by the State of New York) and the companion state land trust; the Hudson River National Heritage River established by Congress; and the Hudson River American Heritage River created by Presidential Executive Order.
It would require a substantial book to describe the ways the landscape preservation agenda of these Hudson River agencies is being accomplished. Suffice it to say that, after less than twenty years, an artificial land scarcity has raised the price of property and caused real estate taxes to rise all out of proportion to the usual appreciation. Land acquisition and land use regulation and its surrogates are causing the riverfront and environs to become inaccessible to much ordinary human use.
No significant disciplined research has been done about the impact of any of the 37 National Park Service greenways designated by Congress, ranging from the relatively new Erie Canal National Heritage Area in New York (which extends to the land around the extensive system of canal spurs) to the Blackstone National Heritage Corridor in Massachusetts and Rhode Island (the first federal heritage area designated by Congress, in 1986). This summer, Congress is holding hearings on still more National Heritage Areas.
State-designated greenways have the same philosophical genesis of landscape preservation as the federal areas, and draw from a similar toolbox of pretexts to justify their enactment, such as the ploy of the urgent need for watershed protection that was exploited to pass legislation to preserve the New Jersey Highlands in 2004 and create the governor-appointed Highlands Council.
If a greenway is based on a body of law enacted by the legislature, the population of the affected region is too small to have an influence on the enactment; it is as though an absent king created the law by decree. However, most greenways have in common a management plan rather than a body of law created by elected representatives of the people, a management entity that creates the management plan, and the literally untold largess of many agencies of federal and state government that cannot be unearthed by the ordinary citizen. All of this is to further the goal of landscape preservation, whether it is a grant to a supposedly local group nurtured by the National Park Service to accomplish a stage of the piecemeal establishment of a regional trail or the state and federal establishment of a Scenic Byway to regulate the view from highways or a well funded program to educate and pressure local government to pass preservation zoning.
Landscape preservation cannot be effectuated by locally established agencies responding to local forces. Agencies "in places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant" must be the genesis of a program to "return" land to its supposed pre-Colonial natural state, where, for all practical purposes, all people except the elites are to be excluded.
To pursue their goal of landscape preservation, the power elites also exploit designations that hearken to the direction of officials located on a distant continent, namely the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, based in Paris and connected on the ground in the United States through the Office of International Affairs of the National Park Service. In accord with the Convention for the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage, to which the U.S. is a signatory, UNESCO designates World Heritage Sites in recognition for the worldwide significance of their cultural and natural resources. Environmental groups have gotten experience obstructing and stopping the use of land near the borders of World Heritage Sites and within Biosphere Reserves, also designated by UNESCO, but not under any U.S. treaty.
At the present time, the National Park Service is reviewing applications for 36 additional World Heritage Sites in the U.S. to add to the twenty already in effect. If the applications are ultimately approved in Paris, the designation could cripple land use around sites ranging from the Okefenokee Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia to the 320-acre Moundville Archaeological Park overlooking the Black Warrior River in central Alabama to the 250-acre estate of Frederic Church known as Olana on the Hudson River in New York.
With the applications for new World Heritage Sites in the U.S. under consideration, James K. Reap, an international environmental scholar at the University of Georgia and an official of the International Council on Monuments and Sites, has published a paper to promote the establishment of formal controls over buffer zones surrounding World Heritage Sites. He advocates "a creative approach to the buffer zone issue":
With this new goal, the cause of landscape preservation would continue on its upward curve, while private property rights would be further downgraded.
The Declaration of Independence lists another grievance that strikes home today:
The multitude of new offices to restrict and eliminate the use of private property today is incomprehensible. Their major categories are:
Judging by the countless and heart-rending appeals for assistance that the Property Rights Foundation of America receives and the fact that these horror stories have become part of the culture, the existence of this "multitude of new offices" has indeed caused "swarms of officers, to harass our people and eat out their substance." No relief is in sight, as the highest court of the land often codifies the worst abuses of these "swarms of officers." In fact, on June 25th the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a mercurial decision in Robbins v. Wilkie reversing the original jury verdict that officials of the Bureau of Land Management violated the Fifth Amendment private property rights of Frank Robbins by repeatedly harassing him to retaliate because he refused to grant the agency a free right-of-way easement across his Wyoming ranch. Only one judge of nine ruled that Robbins' Fifth Amendment property rights deserved respect, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who has been negatively labeled as the most liberal of the high court.
However, it is countless officers' unnoticed routine harassment of American citizens that "eats out their substance." It is the system of citations, violations, applications, re-applications, modified permits, denials, mitigations, snitches, threats, bribes, prejudice, and favoritism that eats at the soul of America. It is the fear that restricts choice and the celebratory use of private property that is the birthright of every person that is eating away the breath of freedom among a once free people.
The Declaration of Independence faults the king "For taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable laws, and altering, fundamentally, the forms of our governments."
It is easy to see how regional government entities imposed under greenways fundamentally alter the "forms of our governments." But consider this:
Isn't the U.S. Supreme Court "taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable laws" by radically diminishing the Fifth Amendment protection of our private property rights?
Where are private property rights when any government body has the carte blanche under the Supreme Court's Kelo vs. New London ruling to condemn the property of its citizens for the purpose of transferring the property to another party as long as the recipient of the property is part of a municipal plan to increase real estate tax revenues or facilitate upscale development?
How little is left of private property rights under the Supreme Court's confusingly expansive definition of the scope of the Clean Water Act to regulate ditches as "navigable waters," so that they come under the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' jurisdiction of "wetlands," as in Rapanos v. United States and Carabell v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers?
What is the meaning of private property ownership today when the Supreme Court held in 2002 in the Tahoe-Sierra Preservation Council v. Lake Tahoe Regional Planning Agency decision that when government moratoria and delays caused landowners to lose all productive use of their property for between 32 months and almost six years, depending on the definition of the government "action," no compensation for a temporary taking is due?
These examples and other recent rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court indeed "abolish our most valuable laws" by ever more tightly circumscribing the meaning of private property rights that may be enjoyed by American citizens.
Landscape preservation-oriented organizations are constantly conniving to increase the restrictions that their cohorts are able to exert on private property. Soft-pedaling of the effort to control "invasive species" by funding seemingly innocent government efforts hides the government's aggressive use of agricultural specifications to restrict established agricultural products such as crown vetch, an excellent erosion-control vegetation used after new highway construction. Legislation to avert federal regulation of private land to stop invasive species was narrowly averted during the drafting of an Endangered Species Act reform bill two years ago.
Another new area of land use control, which is gathering steam in Virginia and Pennsylvania, is "eco-system rights" regulation, whereby the right of a so-called "eco-system" is weighted heavier than the right to the property owner to resource-based production and other uses. This local legislative activity demonstrates that the Sierra Club's dormant "Posterity Amendment," or "Environmental Rights Constitutional Amendment," dating from ten years ago is still a preservationist priority, being imposed incrementally. The various wordings a decade ago were similar to:
The purpose of this amendment was to empower citizen suits to stop productive use of land, i.e., to diminish private property rights at every quarter.
Nothing demonstrates more clearly than this amendment that environmental preservation, specifically landscape preservation, is at war with private property rights.
Without private property rights, freedom cannot exist. The Declaration of Independence was imbued with the belief that private property rights were fundamental.
These inalienable rights are undergirded by private property rights. In fact, at the time, the words "Life, Liberty, and Property" were a philosophical slogan, presaging the final words in The Declaration of Independence.
As James Madison wrote,
Landscape preservation imposed by distant bodies, a multitude of offices, swarms of officers, is not based on a respect for humanity, but on an elitist viewpoint that substitutes a religion-like preoccupation with nature along with a disdain for humanity who do not fit the convenience of the preservationist. Government centered on landscape preservation is diametrically opposed to the belief in freedom and in the fundamental rights of all people on which our legitimate, inspired system of government is based.
On July 1st, The New York Times had a feature travel article about hiking and rafting in northern Idaho, entitled "The Last Wilderness," packed with off-hand, city-journalist references to in-the-know wilderness lore. The article reeked of disdain for rural people, referring to the area as a "hideout for neo-Nazis and others of the far-right fringe."
This is an expression of the elitist urban mentality that would eliminate rural people, reclaiming the land as a vast wilderness interrupted only by their human impacts, especially for their display of wealth and knowingness.
This mentality is the genesis of the "multitude of new offices" that eat out the substance of ordinary private property owners, whether urban victims of eminent domain or rural folk facing incomprehensible environmental regulation.
It was not for this outcome that, 231 years ago, after years of appeals and "deafness to the voice of justice and consanguinity" exhibited by the powers in Great Britain, the signers of The Declaration of Independence wrote,
After the great sacrifice of the founders and the thousands of men and women who have given their lives to defend our Constitution over the years since, it is our obligation to continue to devote our abilities to stop the advance of government that is "unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the public" and to reverse the tide of the "multitude of new offices, swarms of officers, to harass our people, and eat out their substance."
Together, let's do all we can to defend private property rights. I believe that we'll be amazed at what we can accomplish if we put our hearts and minds to the work of regaining our freedom. In this spirit, the theme of our Eleventh Annual National Conference on Private Property Rights coming up on Saturday, October 13, is "Forging Ahead for Private Property Rights."
I'd like to ask you to please donate as generously as you can to increase the success of the work of the Property Rights Foundation of America. Your help is urgently needed.
Please accept my heartfelt gratitude for your belief in the critical importance of private property rights, and my humble thanks in advance for your renewed commitment to the Property Rights Foundation of America at this crucial time.