Got to texting the other day with a fellow Hunterdon Co. native , Peter Graff, about some memorable times locally. We recalled the monumental excavation that it took to build Round Valley Reservoir and later, Spruce Run Reservoir.
Then Interstate 78 came through with its attendant upheaval. Projects like these, for the public good, are many years in the making before the dirty work even begins.
Imagine just the condemnation process alone. That is, in my unlawyer-like description, the taking of privately owned land so that it can be used by the public for an essential purpose (in this case, transportation). The lands needed to build the interstate highways across America, for example, first had to be condemned .
It’s easy to understand the emotional rollercoasters sometimes encountered by the government’s condemnation agent. After all, the farm’s been in the family for four generations and now some mealy-mouthed dude in a suit comes to say he’s here to snatch part of it.
Yes, he’ll pay you for it. Yes, there’s room for negotiation, but not much. It’s not really the owner ‘s choice.
My conversation with Peter evolved to a discussion of Romaine Tenney in Weathersfield, Vermont.
Weathersfield, Vermont. 1964. A wizened old farmer, Romaine Tenney, has refused to do a deal with the government to permit the destruction of his house and cow barn that are in the way of future construction of Interstate 91.
At length, Tenney gets word that the Feds are on their way to remove his worldly possessions from the house to ready it for razing. When they arrive, the house and barn are a raging inferno, Tenney inside with a bullet in his head. Eminent Domain in its ugliest form.
I was eleven years old when that incident took place. I have to wonder how many similar circumstances clouded the judgements of wearied farmers who, right or wrong, felt betrayed; in the wrong place at the wrong time, but for the sake of the public good.