Was Eminent Domain “Made in America”? Upstate NY Residents Soon To Find Out

by: Anthony F. Della Pelle
28 Nov 2022

Nearly 20 years after the United States Supreme Court issued its controversial opinion in Kelo v. City of New London, an economic development project near Syracuse, New York has residents wondering whether their homes and businesses will be taken by eminent domain in order that a computer chip factory can be built by Micron, one of the world’s largest chip manufacturers.  The Micron project, located in upstate Onandaga County, NY, has been touted by President Biden (who attended law school at Syracuse University), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (NY), and New York Governor Kathy Hochul (also a Syracuse alum) as an “amazing” project which will bring “thousands” of permanent jobs to the region along with government subsidies to kick start and maintain growth for the region.

In an October 27 speech in Syracuse celebrating the project, President Biden said “On my watch, ‘Made in America’…isn’t just a slogan. It’s a reality…Today’s announcement is the latest example of my economic plan at work.”  The President also stated “[b]ecause of the new law I signed and Chuck designed and delivered, we’re turning things way around—around in a very big way,” and later called it “one of the most significant investments in American history.”

The Micron project in Clay, New York is located on a large industrial site, known as White Pine, which has been proposed for many years as an ideal setting for a new manufacturing operation, but prior efforts and interest failed.   Now, having the force and support of the leaders of the federal and state governments, it looks as though this industrial site will become an important private sector “success story” by creating manufacturing jobs for the region and bringing with it the promise of other economic growth in an area thirsting for revitalization.

If this sounds too good to be true, or like a song you’ve heard before, that’s because it is.  

Most of the land required for the project is already owned by the government, but there are private properties that will ultimately be needed to make this work.  That means that eminent domain will be used to seize privately owned properties from local residents so that the multi-billion dollar manufacturing project can be built.  While some have sold, other residents are feeling bullied and pressured that they will be forced out of their homes, some of which have been in the families for generations and include farms and homes of long-time residents who own local businesses that are now threatened as standing in the “way of progress”.  The stories of some of these residents are told here on Reason.com:

Biden’s ‘Made in America’ Plan is Bullying Homeowners Off Their Land to Build a Taxpayer-Subsidized Chip Plant

The saga of the “holdout” homeowners, labeled as “pesky” by some because they have the nerve to try and protect their Constitutional property rights from being seized so that a private corporation, rich with taxpayer-funded subsidies, can embark on its journey of bringing prosperity to an ailing region, has itself become a classic American story.  But it’s more like a nightmare for some.

The Kelo matter involved another economic revitalization effort in New London, Connecticut, spurred by the promise of a large global research and development operation for pharmaceutical giant Pfizer.  Local and regional officials supported the project, which resulted in a Pfizer facility being built but it has since been closed, and little else was ever developed, leaving the area which was supposed to be an economic force as one which became a poster child for failure.  The battle waged by local residents, led by Suzette Kelo, made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court thanks to our colleagues at the Institute for Justice.  And was also portrayed on the big screen in “The Little Pink House.”  But the high Court’s opinion polarized our nation, as it affirmed that local Connecticut law actually allowed the taking to occur for economic development purposes.

The aftermath of the Kelo decision in 2005 led nearly all states to enact some sort of eminent domain reform legislation, but resulted in uneven outcomes, with some states adopting comprehensive laws curbing eminent domain power and others doing little more than window dressing.  Some of that historical perspective has been covered in our blog in these prior posts:

Bipartisan Redevelopment Reform Becomes Law in New Jersey

New Jersey’s Stance on Eminent Domain Since Kelo v. New London

Missouri Supreme Court Enforces Post-Kelo Legislation Limiting Takings for Economic Development

House Passes Anti-Kelo Eminent Domain Bill

Kelo Five Years Later – It Still Matters

Kelo Update – Lessons Learned

So here we are, as 2022 comes to a close, only to see another “great” American story – one where the government has teamed up with the private sector to revive the industrial spirit of a region in upstate New York that was itself long-recognized, at least since the creation of the Erie Canal, as being an abundant manufacturing region.  Yet this story cannot be told without also telling the story of the people who have already fallen victim (or will) to the efforts of the Onandaga County Industrial Development Agency, which has authorized the taking of private property so that “economic development” can occur.

This story seems a lot like that “same old song.”  Yet maybe, provided that the condemning agency does what it is supposed to do – make the property owners whole and truly indemnify them for their losses – maybe this project can have a happy ending.  History has proven those instances to be few and far between, but you never know.