On Sept. 30, Louisianans will be asked to vote on Amendment 5, which deals with eminent domain. Ostensibly it would reduce the government's ability to seize private property and narrow the circumstances under which it may do so. But in the words of Monroe real estate and corporate transaction lawyer, Paul Loy Hurd, it is "a constitutional Trojan horse."

Importantly, the amendment allows for ports to expropriate land on a "quick take" basis, which is to say, the property owner can't stop the process by going to court. This provision alone should sound alarms. Ports do have legitimate needs for land ' someplace to deposit dredge spoils, for instance. Unfortunately, what the Port of Lake Charles has done and seems to have in mind for the near future is not quite so straightforward.

With an LNG terminal and a large casino complex now occupying land which had been purchased for, but not used as, dredge spoil fields, the Port of Lake Charles is a very wealthy and rapidly growing real estate developer that also has a cumbersome and neglected sideline in deep-draft shipping.

Now, the Port of Lake Charles is interested in land north and south of the town of Hackberry and has approached property owners there. (One can only guess why a spoil field needs to be adjacent to a town, rather than in some more remote part of Cameron Parish.) If the port acquires this land, nothing says that it must be used as a spoil field. If the port gets the powers provided in Amendment 5, the property owners will have no recourse but to sell at the appraised value, even if the landowner had intended to develop the land himself.

Ports should not have the ability to expropriate private property at all. Such power is an invitation to abuse, but Amendment 5 will grant all ports the authority to force the sale of any land within their districts ' even land far from a waterway ' at its appraised value. Think of it: a real estate developer whose claims on your land are backed by the state constitution.

Vote this outrage down.

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