JLF Memo
Aug. 23rd, 2010: - johnlocke.org

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Alcoa in the Spotlight
By Daren Bakst

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I want to welcome you to the John Locke Foundation's new publication providing you timely insight and analysis on property rights. As many of you know firsthand, property rights has become a secondary right.

In North Carolina, property rights are easily dismissed to meet the personal whims of policymakers (e.g., forced annexation, eminent domain abuse, excessive land use regulations). Through this newsletter, I hope to keep you informed about the challenges faced by North Carolinians seeking to fight for property rights.

In the Spotlight

Spot the Difference: Venezuela, Bolivia, and North Carolina

Many North Carolina policymakers, on both sides of the aisle, are trying to get the federal government to seize Alcoa's hydroelectric dam on the Yadkin River. The state allegedly believes it should take the property and run the dam itself. That would be worse than eminent domain -- it would be nationalization of industry.

Try to distinguish what Hugo Chavez and Venezuela want to do and what many North Carolina policymakers want to do.

These attempts to nationalize industries are not unique to North Carolina and Venezuela. The socialist country Bolivia has also recently nationalized industries, including hydroelectric dams.

Response to Mooneyham on Alcoa

In a recent op-ed, Scott Mooneyham writes:

Should a private company that no longer provides jobs here and is not a publicly-regulated utility continue to be allowed to control the waters of a major North Carolina river for another 50 years?

Supporters of Alcoa's re-licensing say the issue is one of property rights. They're right.

The North Carolina constitution makes clear that the waters of the state are the property of the people, not a single company.

My response:

  1. Alcoa is not claiming to own the water.
  2. Water rights law is poorly developed in this state, but what law does exist makes it clear that property owners have the right to use the water.
  3. Where exactly does it say in the Constitution that the water is the property of the people? I must have missed the section of the Constitution saying water isn't the property of a single company.
  4. Even if such language existed, "property of the people" does not necessarily mean the water is not available for private use.
  5. Mr. Mooneyham suggests that this issue would be different if the company provided jobs or was a public utility. Why would it matter given his logic that nobody except the state should use the water?

Mr. Mooneyham is doing precisely the same thing that many North Carolina policymakers are doing. They see an opportunity to take over someone else's property because they don't like the way it is being used (without any real evidence of problems with its use) and think the state would do a better job of running a hydroelectric dam than Alcoa. This thinking is both arrogant (they assume they know what is for the best) and foolish (thinking the state can possibly do a better job than Alcoa).

Don't be surprised if the state transfers this property to another private entity such as land developers or another utility company. This could be another Kelo-type situation.

Quick Takes

Suit Filed Against Town of West Jefferson to Render ETJ Ordinance Invalid

In the ongoing conflict over implementation of the West Jefferson extra-territorial jurisdiction (ETJ) ordinance, ETJ resident and vocal opponent of the ordinance Cynthia Wadsworth has fired the next shot.

Asheville City Council: Like it or not

Early next year, nearly 700 people may become Asheville residents thanks to two involuntary annexations initiated by City Council July 27.

Transportation on the table at public meetings

In Raleigh, members of the Five Points neighborhood will have an opportunity to question city leaders about a proposed high-speed rail development known as "NC3." According to meeting organizers, NC3 would require the use of eminent domain to claim a right-of-way along the current Norfolk Southern rail area from Peace Street to Wake Forest Road.


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