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Mar. 30 – Eminent Domain bill aimed at blight passes; Amendment that would have slowed down the Palmetto Pipeline removed

Category: Economic Development

By Lou Phelps, Brunswick Business Journal

March 30, 2017 – A statewide bill that significantly changes the ability of cities and counties to use eminent domain to take properties deemed 'blighted,' passed the House and Senate in the closing hours of the General Assembly.  The bill will now move to Gov. Deal for consideration and signature. 

It was sponsored in the Senate by Sen. William Ligon, Jr. of Brunswick (pictured). 

It was one of the key bills of the Savannah City Council’s ‘Legislative Priorities’ for the current session - HB 434 - who worked with Georgia Municipal and other groups to win its passage.  

Mayor Eddie DeLoach and the Savannah City Council had sought to revise the Georgia code that severely limited the ability of cities and counties to address blighted properties through the use of eminent domain, after the state’s Eminent Domain laws were changed back in 2006.  They were joined by other leaders from across the state, both white and black legislators. 

HB 434 had bi-partisan support, as well, led by Republican Wendall Willard and Democrat Calvin Smyre as the lead sponsors in the House.  Rep. Ron Stephens of Chatham County, was also a sponsor.

The bill lays out the legal process to be followed by the Superior Court in a county, and defines what qualifies as a blighted property – it must be more than just an unattractive exterior.  And, it defines the process of notification that a government body must go through to pursue the use of eminent domain.

If declared blighted, and the property is taken by a government entity, it must remain in the same manner of use for five years.  The prior law required it to remain in the same usage for 20 years.  

The City of Savannah has stated that its intent in supporting the bill was to clear up clouded titles on abandoned, dangerous and often historic properties in the city, with the goal of selling the properties to those who will invest in their restoration.  If a residential home is seized through eminent domain, it must remain a residential property for five years.

The bill had passed in the House back in February, and had passed in the Senate on Tuesday, but in an amended version. A group of Senators had attached an amendment that added three more years to the moratorium on the use of eminent domain to pursue a fuel pipeline - nothing to do with addressing blight, the core of the legislation.  But, the House removed that Senate amendment.  Thursday night, the Senate voted 40 to 7 to approve the bill without the anti-pipeline measure.

The Joint Senate/House Study Committee that met last year to look at a number of issues regarding a possible fuel pipeline along the Georgia Coast - including the use of eminent domain - issued its report in January. Chaired by Sen. Frank Ginn of Athens, the study committee found that a pipeline is the safest way to transport fuel.  Sources report that Governor Deal is also now supportive of allowing the study by Kinder Morgan to move forward for a possible ‘Palmetto Pipeline’ along the Georgia coast. 

The Senate voted 40 to 7 to agree to the House’s removal of the Senate’s pipeline moratorium amendment.

Sen. Ben Watson (R) and Sen. Lester Jackson (D) voted for the bill on Tuesday, March 28, with the pipeline amendment.  Sen. Jackson voted against removing that amendment Tuesday night.   

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