“It’s a perverse use of eminent domain,” says Brian Rainville. “There is no public good here.”
He stood on a green field, filled with alfalfa and grass, on the gentle rolling hills of his family’s Franklin, Vermont farm… just steps from the Canadian border. He says the barn dates back to 1800, and the land is on the national registry of historic places. But Brian’s family, who have been dairy farmers here since 1946, may not have the land much longer. The United States Government says it needs 4.9 acres of the family’s property to help protect national security.
The Rainville farm sits on the Morses Line border crossing, a sparsely used two lane blacktop with an aging Customs and Border Protection building that the Department of Homeland Security wants to modernize and expand. The agency plans to use stimulus funds to build a new $8 million dollar, multi-lane complex, and says it needs the nearly five acres of the Rainville’s farmland to complete it.
The Rainvilles say the project will put their farm out of business. With the farm losing money, every inch of land is needed, especially the land they use to grow hay to support their cows for the production of milk.
“We are in a good fight here,” says Brian, “This has been a good living for three generations. We are only the third family in 200 years to own the property, and the thought that our own government is going to destroy us! This has been our American dream for a century, it can’t end that way,” he says sadly.
The crossing is lightly used. Government statistics from the Customs and Border Protection agency show just over 14,800 vehicles cross the border every year. That works out to about 40 cars a day, or roughly two and a half an hour. The crossing is not even open 24 hours a day. Brian thinks it should be closed completely, and the traffic moved to larger crossings nearby. But the government is intent on upgrading the facility, which includes the small customs building built in the 1930’s, that sports a small bench with handcuffs.
“The Morses Line Port is more than seventy years old and has dilapidated infrastructure and outdated technology,” said Customs and Border Protection spokesman Rafael Lemaitre in a statement to Fox News.
“By making critical upgrades to the Port, we will meet essential Post-9/11 security and operational standards while fulfilling the economic goals of the recovery act.”
Lemaitre says the agency takes the concerns “very seriously,” and wants to “work to find a solution that balances security with the needs of the local community.”
Vermont Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy told a Senate hearing that “people have been driving back and forth on that roadway for decades,” and that the plan is “creating animosity.” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano promised to conduct a public hearing on the issue, and to “have a meeting with the community.” She also said there are efforts to reduce the amount of land her agency would need for the project, but that there is a minimum amount of land that would be needed, and “unless you do it, you might as well not do it at all,” she said.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency is beefing up crossings on both the borders of Canada and Mexico, and has received $420 million in stimulus funds for that purpose. The agency also says the project will help the local Vermont economy, by providing more than 90 jobs. The agency says “modernizing the Morses Line Port will address a critical national security need.” The goal of Homeland Security officials remains the protection of our country, and the agency insists it is working in a way to balance the local concerns with its mandate to protect the nation.
The government has offered $39,500 for the acreage, but Brian remains adamant. His 70 year old father still milks the cows, as he has since he was six years old, and his brother also works the farm. Brian, who teaches High School history and civics classes, has created the e-mail site: Saveourfarm@hotmail.com, to generate support.
“As a civics teacher, I’m astounded,” he told Fox News.”I talk to my students about a responsive government, a government that protects rights, a government that protects property. And I have a representative of my own federal government, sit down in my parents’ kitchen and tell them that the federal government sees no reason why they should keep their land?” he says angrily.
“We’ve been lied to, I’ve been misled and I’ve had enough of it,” he says defiantly. “It’s heartbreaking.”
If the government does resort to using eminent domain, Brian says “the message is we don’t care what you do, or how long you have been there. If we want it, get out of our way. And that’s not the United States of America.”
This is the latest installment of the Fox News “It’s Your Land” series. If you have property issues, contact Fox News Senior Correspondent Eric Shawn and Producer Becky Diamond at: Yourland@Foxnews.com. Segments can also be seen on the Fox News Channel, Sunday mornings from 10 a.m. to 12 Noon, E.S.T.