Property rights hearing draws crowd 
October 7, 2005 
Staff Writer 
Gwinnett Daily Post
P.O. Box 603
Lawrenceville, GA 30046-0603
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Dahlonega, Georgia - Local governments should be forced to compensate property owners when their land loses value because of environmental or zoning restrictions, a property rights advocate from Oregon told a Georgia Senate committee Thursday. 
But a representative of a regional water planning agency said such a requirement would discourage local officials from protecting waterways from stormwater runoff, worsening an already alarming water pollution problem. 
At stake is a Senate bill aimed at “inverse condemnation," [which is] the loss of all or part of the value of private property when its owner is not allowed to use it the way he or she intended because of government restrictions. 
The measure, introduced this year by Sen. Chip Pearson, R-Dawsonville, would allow property owners who believe they have been the victim of inverse condemnation to bring their case before a special master
If victorious, the owner would be entitled to receive the fair market value of the property directly affected and any “consequential" damage to the rest of the property. 
Voters in Oregon overwhelmingly approved a referendum last fall inserting an inverse condemnation clause in that state’s constitution, David Honeycutt told members of a Senate study committee chaired by Pearson.
Honeycutt said legislatures in eight other states also are weighing various versions of the provision. 
“This is a national trend ... what you're seeing across the country is governments adopting regulations that have tremendously negative impacts on property owners," he said. 
“Property owners are waking up to the realization that what they bought today may be worth next to nothing tomorrow." 
Thursday’s hearing in Dahlonega drew a crowd of about 100 people, many concerned about how the new $14.5 million Yahoola Creek Reservoir might affect their properties.
Steve Gooch, chairman of the Lumpkin County Commission, said a preliminary study by the county found that the 150-foot buffers the state requires along both banks of tributaries feeding reservoirs would take more than 8,700 acres from local landowners. 
“Eighty-seven hundred acres in North Georgia is very valuable land," said Gooch. “It’s the 401(k) for farmers. ... Without this land, they have no retirement." 
But Pat Stevens of the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District urged senators not to handcuff local government officials from using stream buffers and floodplain management as tools to protect vital rivers and streams by making them pay for those safeguards. 
“Most local governments can't afford to buy all this property," she said. “Local ordinances can be drafted in a way that balances private property rights with the need for environmental protection." 
But Gooch drew applause from the audience when he vowed that he and the rest of the Lumpkin commission will never agree to the buffers required by the state Environmental Protection Division, even if it means the county won't get a permit to draw water from the reservoir. 
“It will be a good place to go fishing if we can't get our permit," he said. “We're not willing to jeopardize our beliefs and values."

Copyright 2005, GwinnettDailyPost.
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