A case in 2011 proves that farmers can win against government agencies that use the power of eminent domain for projects. Edd Jennings was a farmer in Wythe County who suffered damages to his farm during the repair of the I-77 bridge.
Jennings owns 300 acres, and the I-77 bridge cuts the farm in half. Debris from the repair project was left on the farm between his parents’ home and his grandparents’ home. The Virginia Department of Transportation left the debris at the location after completing a repair project in 2002.
This is not the first taking for this one property. In fact, a natural gas pipeline, lines for cable television and electricity, property for a highway, overhead bridge and country road had already gone through the property, but the family had been compensated. There had been no compensation for the repairs made on the bridge.
A judge in the circuit court ruled that the use of the land by VDOT had adversely affected the owner’s ability to access the property. A resolution had been passed to amend the state constitution and prevent any private property from being taken for private use. Any entity seeking to use eminent domain power must be able to prove that it is for public use. Even then, only what is absolutely necessary may be taken. This would ensure that no taking would be allowed for any private enterprise or to create jobs or raise tax revenue.
This ruling helps to establish the precedent that a property owner deserves to be compensated for any use of the property. It also may make companies think twice about attempting to use the power for private gain. Virginia is just one of many states to enact legislation to protect property owners.