Willing Sellers Must “Agree or Else”
Official National Park Service Policy
Edited by L. M. Schwartz
In 1988, the National Park Service and its historic preservation “partners” ignited a firestorm of protest when they tried to expand the Minute Man National Historic Park in Massachusetts, the site of the outbreak of the American Revolution. Created in 1959, the Park was the first in the nation to be carved out of mainly private property after more than 150 frightened home owners, farmers and small business owners were promised that eminent domain would not be used. Almost 30 years later the preservationists wanted over 30 more homes and land, and wanted to close a major road.
But long-time local residents remembered the carnage when the National Park Service broke its word and ruthlessly seized private property to create the park—in the name of our nation’s battle for independence, freedom and the rights of the individual.
Following the usual official denials about land condemnation, the NPS insisted only a “willing buyer, willing seller” policy would be used. A local reporter, John Macone, called Mr. Will Kriz, the head of Park Service land acquisition in Washington, DC. Kriz bluntly stated “willing seller” is meaningless and unless the legislation authorizing the park prohibits condemnation, the normal practice is to take property by condemnation if “negotiations” do not succeed.
Once a Park Service Unit is created, prohibitions against condemnation are subject to change by Congress. In the following article from the Concord Journal, the reasons why are made very clear.
Top park official calls willing buyer, willing seller method of buying land “meaningless”
By John Macone, Staff Writer
Concord Journal, page 10, July 14, 1988
The “willing buyer, willing seller” procedure of acquiring land, touted by park officials, is “meaningless” and a more proactive method is generally used, a top National Park Service official said.
“The term willing buyer, willing seller is meaningless. Everyone is willing to sell at some price,” said William Kriz*, chief of the National Park Service’s Land Resources Division in Washington, DC.
He said, “Willing buyer, willing seller makes it almost impossible for the park to expand. It’s a very time consuming process.”
According to the park service’s draft general management plan for the minute Man National Historical Park, about 32 homes in Concord, Lexington and Lincoln are being considered for acquisition, either by means of a willing buyer, willing seller arrangement or by eminent domain. [condemnation]
The mechanism through which 85 percent of all park lands are acquired is negotiated purchase, Kriz said, with the remainder acquired through condemnation.
Negotiated purchase, Kriz said, is a proactive way of acquiring land. Congress sets aside acquisition money, and park service representatives are sent out to negotiate a price with the owners. The park service contracts an appraiser to determine the full market value of the land, which by law is the minimum amount it can pay for it, he said.
If the homeowner asks for a slightly higher price that the park service thinks is reasonable, Congressional approval is needed to get the extra funds necessary, he said.
If no negotiation is made, he said the park service uses condemnation to get the land. “We always try to buy the property first, and always use condemnation as a last resort, but not unless we have to,” Kriz said. However, he noted condemnation cannot be used if the enabling legislation specifically prohibits it.
In public meetings, Park Superintendent Bob Nash has stated several times he would “strongly recommend” condemnation not be used in the legislation, unless the land were needed for a roadway. However, the wording of the legislation is “in the hands of Congress,” he said.
Nash said the park’s land acquisition [office] would handle the actual purchases, and he would have little direct involvement in it.
Kriz said the park service also has an “emergency hardship fund” of about $1 to $2 million annually, which is used to buy land earmarked for acquisition if the park service’s interest in it impedes on the owner's attempts to sell, or if the land is about to be developed contrary to the park’s interests. Kriz could not say how many landowners ask for hardship funds.
A total of $330 million worth of land is slated for acquisition with no funding available now to buy it, Kriz said. Predicting when Congress would make the funds available would be tantamount to looking into a crystal ball and asking the same question, he said.
When Congress passes legislation allowing the park service to expand or create parks, rarely does it allocate enough to cover all the costs, he said.
*[Note: Willis Kriz, not William, is the correct name of the Park Service official.]
Here is a typical NPS land condemnation letter:
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR
NATIONAL PARK SERVICE
LAND ACQUISITION FIELD OFFICE
Post Office Box 1515
Naples, Florida 33939
Dec 16, 1991
IN REPLY REFER TO: L1425 (LAFO-LPR)
Re: Tract No. [Deleted for privacy reasons]
Dear Mr. and Mrs. [Deleted for privacy reasons]
We have been unsuccessfully negotiating with you for the purchase of the above property within the Everglades National Park Expansion. Our offer is in accordance with an impartial appraisal made by an appraiser well qualified to appraise this type of property. The offer is representative of fair market value for your interest.
If the offer is satisfactory, please sign the original offer form which was provided you.
Our schedule does not permit us to defer or delay negotiations indefinitely. Therefore, we are requesting an early response relative to consummating this acquisition. In the event we have no response from you within fifteen (15) days of your receipt of this letter, we will assume you have rejected our offer. It will then be necessary to initiate acquisition by eminent domain procedures and have a Federal Court determine the compensation to which you are entitled. [Emphasis added]
We must bring this matter to a conclusion promptly, and are acting in accordance with approved governmental procedures for such occasions. We urge that you give serious consideration to our offer.
The above information is provided for your benefit and should not be construed as a threat. Regardless of your decision, we respect your position and right to disagree. [Emphasis added—if it’s not a threat, what is it? Your right to disagree is virtually meaningless to the Park Service and in the federal courts.]
A self-addressed envelope is enclosed for your convenience in making a reply.
Dolores A. Denning
Chief, Purchasing and Relocation Division
If you believe your land will never be condemned and taken; if you think you can trust the NPS and historic preservationists’ word; or if you are sure Congress will never change the way land is “acquired,” think again!
In 1991, Congress amended the Minute Man National Historical Park Act so more land could “be appropriated”—HR 2896 (US Code Title 16, Chapter 1, Subchapter LV § 410t):
The park shall be established as Minute Man National Historical Park by notice in the Federal Register when the Secretary of the Interior finds that sufficient lands within the designated area have been acquired to warrant such establishment… [within the park boundary or the “study area”]
The Secretary of the Interior is authorized to acquire…lands or interests in lands within the areas included within the boundaries of the park pursuant to amendments made by the Minute Man National Historical Park Amendments of 1991 (hereinafter referred to as “1991 additions”), except that…(c)(2) lands, and interests in lands, within the 1991 additions which are used for noncommercial residential purposes as of July 1, 1991, may be acquired only with the consent of the owner thereof unless the property is being developed, or is proposed to be developed, in a manner which the Secretary determines to be detrimental to the scenic, historical, cultural, and other values of the park…
Nothing in paragraph [c](2) shall be construed to prohibit the use of condemnation as a means of acquiring…any lands within the 1991 additions.” [Emphasis added]
Today, as of September 20, 2005, a new bill is before Congress, HR 394, a “study” to again expand Park boundaries to include the Barrett Farm. HR 394 has passed the House and awaits Senate action.
Read an eye-opening report about NPS “Willing Seller” land condemnation policies by “Bo” W. Thott of the Washington County Alliance, Cutler, Maine. If you have doubts, this should put them to rest.
[Note: the first paragraphs of this article are edited from information on Eric Veyhl’s Property Rights website.]