Individual freedom and the Greater Good

Published 8:09 pm Wednesday, July 22, 2015

By Drew Page

The “Greater Good” is often cited as a reason certain projects are started and political positions are taken. Societal benefit arguably outweighs any one individual’s concerns for discomfort or disagreement.

But should the Greater Good require complete and full surrender of an individual’s rights? The Constitution of the United States, as well as our commonwealth’s Constitution, would say “No.” The whole purpose of our founding documents is to preserve and protect certain inalienable rights for individuals.

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An excellent example of this tension will be seen as the Atlantic Coast Pipeline comes to Western Tidewater.

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is a natural gas pipeline that is proposed to flow from Harrison County, W.Va., to Robeson County, N.C., cutting right through Western Tidewater. An additional line would divert horizontally to Chesapeake. The work could begin in 2016.

The pipeline would bring much-needed natural gas energy to these areas. Additionally, proponents claim it would provide numerous jobs to the local area and invigorate local economies. With the additional workers paying for temporary housing, food and other spending, localities could expect additional tax revenues.

If these claims come to fruition, no one can deny that the Greater Good would be realized.

On the other hand, a pipeline must cross land that belongs to someone. Perhaps it’s someone whose family has had the land for generations. Perhaps it’s someone who is leery about a potentially dangerous pipeline crossing his property.

These people have the right to voice their objections. These people have to right to ensure their properties are being taken for a public purpose. And these people are entitled to just compensation for their loss of land rights.

The commonwealth of Virginia in 2012, in response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that expanded government’s ability to transfer private property to a private company in pursuit of additional tax revenues, passed an amendment to the state’s constitution.

Because of that amendment, a locality in the commonwealth is constrained regarding the taking of private property through eminent domain. The taking must be for a public use, the government can take only what is necessary, generation of tax revenue cannot be the sole benefit, and the definition of just compensation was expanded.

Thus, a landowner has significant protections in the rights of their property. While the Greater Good may require a landowner to surrender property, he or she has the right to challenge the taking and, if unsuccessful, still has the right to just compensation.

Landowners angry over the pipeline are therefore not without recourse and should feel secure in standing up for their rights.

As a member of the Franklin Business Incubator Board, I understand the importance of economic development in Western Tidewater. We need more jobs, and we need more spending to provide revenues to our localities. These things could be achievable through the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. If they are, the Greater Good would be satisfied as to this issue.

But if an individual landowner’s assertion of property rights is too expensive for the Greater Good to succeed, then the Greater Good should give way or make an adjustment. That’s how the Founders envisioned the process.

In fact, they laid out the Bill of Rights to show our nation, and the rest of the world, that big government should never require the full surrender of individual freedom.

Andrew Page is a Franklin resident and a partner at Randall | Page. Email him at