Haff’s long battle against eminent domain

Haff’s long battle against eminent domain

By Dan King

Hartford Supervisor Dana Haff says he “hates” eminent domain and he’s long been the lone voice against it at the county level.

That was affirmed during a vote of the Washington County Board of Supervisors last Friday to allow “the chairman to sign petition of condemnation” and “execute on behalf of the county of Washington, and also to verify such petitions and instruments in writing as may be necessary to condemn parcels of land for highway purposes, when options or right-of-way are not obtainable by compromise or settlement.”

Haff was the only one of the 17 supervisors to vote no.

“I’m against this,” he said. “I don’t think the chairman should be given blanket authority to execute eminent domain. It should be handled on a case by case basis.”

Chairman of the Board Bob Henke, of Argyle, said he “expected that” from Haff.

Dana Haff Headshot 2015
Dana Haff

After the meeting Haff elaborated on his opposition to the county’s use of eminent domain, which has roots dating back to the 1980s.

“It’s the most un-American thing you can do,” Haff said. “Regardless of the level of government, it is government overreach. Whatever happened to my home, my castle?”

Haff said he is opposed to eminent domain in general, but especially the way the county has gone about it.

“If we ever did this it should go through the DPW committee,” he said. “The committee can vote on it and give authority to the chairman or not on a case by case basis. It’s got to go through the DPW committee anyway, so I think it should be decided there instead of giving the chairman this blanket authority.”

Haff said he doesn’t think the government should be able to decide to take someone’s property for a public project.

Proponents of eminent domain argued that it would only be used for “public good.”

When eminent domain is used, the governmental entity that uses it is supposed to supply “just compensation” to the individual it takes the property from and the government is supposed to have the burden of proving that the project it is taking the property for is indeed a “public good.”

Haff said that since he’s been on the Washington County Board he has consistently been the only “no” vote when the issue of eminent domain is brought up, and that is due in large part to a 1989 case in the town of Hartford where the county was planning to build a landfill for the county’s old burn facility.

“Another reason why I especially hate eminent domain is because the county threatened Hartford citizens with it way back in 1989 when they wanted to get enough land from three farmers to build the burn plant’s ash landfill,” he said. “This type of anti-American treatment is why Hartford had our dander up when we decided to sue the county over Eldridge Lane. If it happened then, it can happen again to citizens somewhere else in the county.”

He said when he first joined the board he brought up his concerns with the 1989 issue and immediately drew opposition from the county attorney and other supervisors.

“(The county) purchased a lot of land, 485 acres which would have included the landfill plus buffer land,” Haff said. “They did not construct anything and the land remained in the county hands over 20 years as undeveloped land until I came into office and started fighting them to divest themselves of the land.”

Haff said, at that point, “We discovered they violated their legal ‘host package’ agreement with Hartford and the town sued the county.”

The two municipalities eventually reached a settlement in which the county would pay Hartford a lump sum of $40,000 and an additional $4,000 on Jan. 1 of every year the land remained in county ownership. An Argyle resident won the property at auction in 2014.

As for Friday’s vote to give the chairman authority to execute the process, Haff was the only dissenter, so it passed. He was also the only dissenter in a resolution that allows local municipalities to establish a quarantine on dogs for the protection of deer. Haff said that was also “government overreach” and that “town dog control laws already cover that.”