Greater good shouldn’t require surrender of individual freedom

Published 9:28 am Wednesday, July 15, 2015

by Drew Page

The Greater Good is often cited as a reason why certain projects are started and political positions are taken. Societal benefit arguably outweighs any one individual’s concerns for discomfort or disagreement. But should the Greater Good require complete and full surrender of an individual’s rights? The Constitution of the United States, as well as our Commonwealth’s Constitution would say “No.” The whole purpose of our “Founding Documents” is to preserve and protect certain inalienable rights for individuals. An excellent example of this tension will be seen as the Atlantic Coast Pipeline comes to Western Tidewater, Virginia.

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is a natural gas pipeline that is set to flow from Harrison County, West Virginia to Robeson County, North Carolina, cutting right through Western Tidewater. An additional line with divert horizontally to Chesapeake. The work is set to begin in 2016.

The pipeline is touted to bring much-needed natural gas energy to these areas. Additionally, proponents claim that it will provide numerous jobs to the local area and will invigorate our local economies. With the additional workers paying for temporary housing, food and other spending, the localities look forward to additional tax revenues. If these claims come to fruition, no one can deny that the Greater Good will be realized.

But on the other side of the coin, a pipeline has to go through land. That land belongs to someone. Perhaps it’s someone who has had that land in their family for several generations. Perhaps it’s someone who is leery about having a pipeline with the potential for explosion running underneath their property. These people have the right to voice their objections. These people have to right to ensure that their property is being taken for a public purpose. And these people are entitled to just compensation for their loss of land rights.

These are constitutional protections. The Supreme Court in Kelo v. City of New London, while somewhat giving lip-service to the constitutional and fundamental right to property, broadened a locality’s ability to take property from landowners. Under Kelo, a locality can take property so long as it is for a “public purpose,” which can include essentially transferring property to a private company so long as it would generate additional tax revenues. The Commonwealth of Virginia in 2012, in response to Kelo, passed a constitutional amendment to Article 1, Section 11. A locality in the Commonwealth must be for public use, take only what is necessary, eliminates tax revenue generation as a sole benefit, and expanded the definition of just compensation.

Thus, a landowner has significant protections in the rights of their property. While the Greater Good may require a landowner to surrender property, he or she has the right to challenge the taking and, if unsuccessful, still has the right to just compensation. Landowners angry over the pipeline are therefore not without recourse and should feel secure in standing up for their rights.

As a member of the Franklin Business Incubator Board, I certainly understand the importance of economic development for our Western Tidewater area. We need more jobs to provide revenues to our localities. We need more spending to provide revenues to our localities. All of these things seem to be achievable through the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. And if they are, the Greater Good for Western Tidewater will be satisfied as to this issue.

But if an individual landowner’s assertion of property rights is too expensive for the Greater Good to succeed, then the Greater Good should give way or make an adjustment. After all, that’s how the Founders envisioned this process. The Greater Good was certainly important. But the Founders laid out the Bill of Rights to show our nation, and the rest of the world, that big government should never trump the full surrender of individual freedom.

ANDREW PAGE is a Franklin resident and a partner at Randall | Page. His email is