President Bush’s proposal to sell forest land in our area (and others) in order to pay for rural schools and services has received opposition from the Sullivan County Commission. Although the Sullivan County Commission doesn’t have the authority to determine what happens to land outside of their jurisdiction (contrary to what their resolution would have you believe), I have to agree with their disagreement on President Bush’s plan. I do not, however, agree with their seeming suggestion that the land remain in federal custody.
The Fifth Amendment gives the Federal Government the authority to own land (sometimes obtained through eminent domain) for public use:
“…nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”
The government can seize land for public use, so long as they offer just compensation. Where we have disagreement is in the definition of “public use” (this was the area of contention in the recent “eminent domain” Supreme Court case.) I argue that the Federal Government is limited in its ownership and use of public land to such services as military installations and government office buildings; they are not authorized land for “public ownership,” such as urban renewal, environmental protection, or historic preservation. The distinction here is “public use” versus “public ownership.” Military installations and government office buildings are easily defined as “public use;” national forests, wetlands, and historical preservation aren’t quite so cut and dry. Wetlands and historical preservation, I think, are easier to refute, as a description of public use would be a stretch here. Environmentalists argue that they are saving the wetlands/forests/ bunny rabbits for the public “good.” Not to be confused with public “use.” The Fifth Amendment does not say that the Federal Government may obtain land for the public “good;” it states that they may obtain it for public “use.” If environmentalists want to save the forests and the wetlands (and the bunny rabbits), they need to buy that land themselves and protect it rather than compelling me to do so through the Federal Government. The same applies to historical preservation; it is for the public “good,” not public “use,” and is, therefore, unconstitutional. Want it protected? Buy it yourself. National forests, on the other hand, are “used” by the public for hiking, hunting, fishing, etc. I don’t believe this is what our founding fathers meant by “public use;” even so, if this type of land is needed for some reason or another, it should be up to the states – not the Federal Government – to provide it. The fact is that there are acres and acres of unused land within the National Forests that could be better used by the public if not owned by the Federal Government.

That being said, the Federal Government should be turning National Forest land back over to the states to do with what they see fit. It is not within the Federal Government’s power to sell land within the state of Tennessee, give us some portion of the proceeds, and then keep the rest for themselves (or even give us all the proceeds – the states should be able to do with the land what is best for the area in question.) Not to mention the fact that President Bush wants to mandate what we do with the proceeds. How far our government has fallen…

Not only has President Bush overstepped his authority with his “No Child Left Behind Act” (the feds have no business in education), he now wants to sell land within the state of Tennessee, give us some of the money, and then tell us what to do with it; namely, build schools and rural services, something that is clearly a state, not a federal job. Why won’t the President just turn Tennessee land back over to Tennesseans? Why, because the feds wouldn’t get a cut of the proceeds! This is a blatant abuse of Federal power that makes me slightly sick to my stomach.

So, while I agree with the Sullivan County commission that the President should not be selling land that should belong to Tennesseans, I do not agree that it should remain in the hands of the Federal Government. The land should be turned back over to the states in which it is located and used in a way that would best serve the residents of that state- even if that means private development.