Opinion

American freedoms a sham if property can be taken so easily

eminent domain Okay, so my husband and I are avowed environmentalists who believe if more people don't act as wise stewards of their land, we'll condemn future generations to a bleak existence on a barren planet.
   We attended the Jan. 17 public meeting in Duvall hosted by Olympic Pipe Line Company to better understand where we stood with the latest threat to our property: an oil pipeline that would go underground through our property and through our fish-spawning creek on the B.P.A. right of way we had been lulled into believing could only be used by B.P.A. for electrical lines and their maintenance.
   Olympic admitted their pipeline would traverse a specified number of officially recognized creeks and rivers (including the Snoqualmie and Columbia Rivers) with no mention of the numerous streams and wetlands which are unnamed and, therefore, easier to abuse.
   At the Duvall meeting, we were to have our first exposure to the merciless business people who were unashamed to publicly bully and threaten any property owner who might try to stand in the way of their profit-motivated plans to build their pipeine at all costs--money being no object with Texaco, Arco, and GATX, another oil conglomerate, footing the bill.
   Interestingly, Olympic offers to pay "fair market value" for the portion of an acre their easement on your land would TAKE, which amounts to a miserable fraction of the cost to landowners when their property's total value, including homes and other improvements, would be decreased for resale (as much as one-fifth in our case) once it harbors an oil pipeline.
   Olympic also promises to take only the trees inside the 30-foot easement unless your property is chosen as a site for one of their many 40-by-40-foot gauging stations, or if you have a stream to be crossed which is nestled in a tree and vegetation protection ravine which B.P.A. spared 30 years ago because those trees are well below their electrical lines.
   There is something else at stake here beyond environmental degradation (all oil pipelines leak). The Olympic Pipe Line folks stood up at the Duvall meeting and arrogantly threatened that if property owners do not roll over and play dead, that is, sign the company's easement, Olympic will use their "common carrier" status and power of "eminent domain" to condemn those properties.
   This to us is the most frightening aspect of all of this business and the best gauge of the character of our foes: you, Mr. and Mrs. Property Owner, have no choice but to give up your land to industrial exploitation not for the public good or for a national emergency but so a few can profit commercially.
   You see, our present system of trucking and barging oil to eastern Washington works because these sources of transportation of an environmentally dangerous product are above ground and, therefore, easier to regulate for safety.
   But the Olympic Pipe Line Company wants to increase their profits by piping their diesel fuel, gasoline, and jet fuel directly to markets in eastern Washington and beyond. Olympic's existing pipeline running from Bellingham to Portland was constructed 30 years ago when environmental hazards were less well-known.
   If you aren't convinced piplines are dangerous, consider the other trade-offs signing your property over to Olympic will bring: weekly aerial inspections of their easement on your property to be sure you aren't using their land as you might like to near their pipeline; the scarring of your land during construction and resulting disruption of your lives; and the real possibility you or your heirs can go through the whole process again in a few years if the company decides they need to put in a second pipeline.
   When one man questioned the wording in the draft easement Olympic had given him that says, "You will not contest a second pipeline," he was told that if this wording bothered him, the Company will gladly take out those offending words. It doesn't matter anyway, because you can't contest what they do on their easement due to their "eminent domain" police powers.
   We agree with the resident quoted in Jeff Switzer's Jan. 22 article ("Outrage, concern over proposed pipeline"), who said that "Anybody who signs one of those cheap agreements [the Olympic right-of-way easement] is a fool."
   Here is a good cause for the property rightists if there ever was one. If property owners can't say no to the exploitation of their land by outside commercial interests, what does this mean for their rights to protect their homes and property for their own peace of mind and enjoyment?
   What it says is that our American freedoms, including the sanctity of our homes, are a sham if they can be taken from us so easily.

Sharon A. Damkaer, Monroe