Battlefields and the eminent domain ruling

I have been thinking about how the new Supreme Court ruling on eminent domain might affect battlefield preservation.

It's one of many left/right convergence issues.

My impression of city politics, as a lifelong urban resident, is that the principal contributors to urban politics are developers, demolition companies, and waste removal firms. Each party and each politician has a favorite set of backers in these categories and they switch off doing remunerative projects depending on who is in power and what kind of support is available in council.

The New London condemnation criteria, favoring any alternative use that can produce more revenue or generate more taxes, now clears the way for an endless redistribution of property on grounds of political affiliation and project funding. This is the "worst case" painted by the left and right, and I know from personal experience of at least three cities where "worst case" will be coming true soon. The ultimate "worst case" will be one where a viable new commercial development built by one set of connected developers is destroyed to make way for a "better" one (immediately after an election).

If the worst case does not come to pass everywhere, it will be because the voters of each state exact different levels of political retribution where eminent domain is exercised. So, in Maryland, it is unlikely that those "virtual battlefield parks" made of patchwork easements around the Maryland Campaign gaps will now be forged - through seizings - into "real" parks that people can visit. I have heard that Civil War Preservation Trust, for instance, dreads use of eminent domain. And one can see why: if they are viewed as forerunners of expropriation, no one will speak to them. And from Tim Reese, I have learned that the property holders on South Mountain tend to already be alert and highly mistrustful of any Civil War related offers.

Meanwhile, battlefield preservationists in the Shenandoah Valley, enjoying sympathy a few months ago, are now - after the ruling - facing what appears to be an aroused and suspicious populace, if the reaction of politicians in this article is any indication (subscription required).

Short-term, I believe the new Supreme Court ruling makes battlefield land acquisition much harder by creating an adversarial and defensive response wherever the "public good" expresses an interest in private property.

The intransigent mindset of South Mountain landowners is about to be exported nationally.

Other possible effects:

* Accelerated multipurposing. The seizing of private property will need as much political justification as possible and must show the broadest possible "good". Where new land is seized adjacent to an existing battlefield, expect the combined old and new historic property to sprout additional uses that have nothing to do with remembrance.

* Commercial development of existing battlefield sites. Private lands adjacent to battlefields offer units to be combined into battlefield expansion packets; the revenue and tax angle will be played by developers who assemble these packages on the Tricord (Chancellorsville) model. Thus, one can offer to build a commercial site on part of a property made up by multiple takings, turning some of the land over to battlefield park use. Free battlefield parks fold into commercial complexes and are thereby made to pay their way.

* A re-evaluation of the purchase of easements by preservation groups. These will be harder to justify to members and we can expect preservation groups to divide into hardline "takers" and consent seekers.

* Increased aversion to registering private property as "historic". This last bit may be as history destroying as turning developers loose in old neighborhoods.

The law of unintended consequences is not one that this Supreme Court can fix.