By A.J. Hazarabedian

The Orange County Transportation Authority (“OCTA”) has begun making habitat preservation efforts in an attempt to offset some of the environmental detriments from a planned freeway improvement project.

The Orange County Register reported last week in their article, Transportation agency to spend millions saving habitat,” that OCTA plans to use funds from Measure M to accomplish the preservation.  Measure M funds come from a half-cent sales tax voters in Orange County extended for transportation improvements.

The article indicates that the purpose of the project is to “hedge against possible habitat damage from a 30-year, $4.8 billion freeway improvement project the agency is planning.”  In order for this “preservation push” to become a reality, at least 26 properties around the county will need to be acquired.  The article indicates that it could be months before any land is acquired and also states that the list of 26 properties which have been reviewed by the environmental committee may change.

However, Melanie Schlotterbeck, an Orange County preservation activist and chairwoman of an OCTA environmental committee, said in the article that acquiring land is a priority.  She indicates that property owners may be more willing to sell their land due to the economic downturn and is also quoted stating, “the sooner we buy things, the likely cheaper they are.”

The agency is hoping this proejct does not cause controversy as past projects have.  Dan Silver, a preservation activist also serving on the environmental committee, explained that this project is much different than the creation of the county’s first nature reserve which brought up “contentious conflicts” in the 1990s.  He stated, “there’s so much less controversy here,” and, “we’re all working together to provide the most benefits.”


Commentary from A.J. Hazarabedian:

This situation presents a classic example of the types of policy conflicts which arise when eminent domain is under consideration.  Many people who think eminent domain is “bad” and should never be used under any circumstances also believe environmental preservation is “good” and should be pursued at virtually any cost.  But here’s a situation where in order to preserve the environment (good), the power of eminent domain (bad) may need to be used.  So apparently, you can’t have your cake and eat it too in this situation.  So which is it?  Use the “bad” power of eminent domain to achieve the “good” of environmental protection?  Or protect private property rights at the expense of the environment?