Coming back to check on what's happening with the world after spending Christmas with my family, one of the first items that caught my attention was a very un-Christmas item indeed. Plans are in motion to construct a memorial in Pennsylvania to those who died on United Airlines Flight 93, the plane that was hijacked on 9-11 and was presumed to be headed for Washington DC before the passengers took matters into their own hands and caused the plane to crash into Pennsylvania farmland. Negotiations are still underway with Svonavec Inc., which owns a large chunk of land in the proposed memorial area, including the location of the actual crash site but The Families of Flight 93, an organization representing those families who lost loved ones on the doomed plane, is urging President Bush to empower the Secretary of the Interior to just take the land. The National Parks Service, who will actually be building the memorial, has already said that it will use eminent domain if all else fails.
I have nothing but sympathy for those who lost loved ones on 9-11, but my sympathy does not stretch so far as to forgive wrong-headed activities. Eminent Domain is possibly the single most controversial power held by any government and using it for anything other than absolutely necessary reasons is just asking for trouble. Using it to build a memorial taints the memorial before ground has even been broken.
This is even more true in this particular case. The people who died on Flight 93 died fighting against the terrorists. They were not just victims. They were, in a very active sense, heroes. They died defending their land against those who would do us harm. In what way is it even possible to believe that taking someone else's land would be the right and proper way to memorialize these people?
Svonavec Inc. treasurer Mike Svonavec has claimed that NPS has not done enough to negotiate a deal. Patrick White, vice president of The Families of Flight 93, has claimed that Svonavec has been unwilling to negotiate. This sounds like both sides have a long way to go in normal channel negotiations. At any rate, no one should be even close to talking about eminent domain.
I understand that those who want the memorial are feeling pressure to break ground soon in order to have the memorial ready in time for the 2011 anniversary, but being in a hurry does not cancel rights of property ownership. If you are really feeling that anxious then I would recommend that you spend more time at the bargaining table and less time writing letters to outgoing presidents.