Maybe it’s the lack of oxygen. People get light-headed more easily above 9,000 feet. Maybe it’s the common leftist attitude about private property: what belongs to one, belongs to all. Perhaps it’s the pervasive sense of personal entitlement we’ve been carefully nurturing for decades. Whatever the causes, our social fabric is breaking down; unintended and deleterious consequences will follow.
For those who doubt, here’s a thought experiment. On the threshold of Christmas, a parcel appears on your doorstep. You aren’t expecting it. It’s not addressed to you, nor do you know the sender. What do you do?
You could contact the intended recipient, whose telephone number is in local directories, to say you have the package. You could contact the delivery company and inform them of their error, asking them to re-deliver the box properly. Or you could appropriate the contents for yourself, rationalizing your theft with the argument that, given the season, you deserve it.
Unfortunately, our little corner of paradise seems to have folks whose response to the situation amounts to “Par-tay, dudes. Double Christmas this year!” And to hell with the people whose names were on the box.
Lest you mistakenly assume that this little parable is only about a stolen Christmas present, consider the predicament of Andy and Ceil Barrie, whose land the Summit County Board of Commissioners have decided they must have — by whatever means necessary. Yes, larceny lives, not only in the hearts of Summit County’s citizens, but in their government as well.
Although the details have been set out elsewhere, some are worth repeating. In December 2011, the Barries bought a 10-acre parcel of land in unincorporated Summit County south of Breckenridge. The parcel had a miner’s cabin, updated by the previous owner. Surrounded by the National Forest, there were access problems which the Barries attempted to regularize — which is when things went sideways. In June of last year they met with Summit County officials and were told the county was going to buy the property — or take it through eminent domain.
Reasons behind the seizure are flimsy. First, there was the assertion that the Barries were using it for commercial purposes which “don’t meet the county’s goals of preservation of open space.” These “commercial purposes” consisted in gathering downed bristlecone pine trees and boughs from their private property. Subsequently, the county discovered “unauthorized improvements” to the cabin, which officials say justifies seizure of the entire parcel.
This finding should freeze the hearts of half the property owners in my neighborhood, given the number of interesting additions and alterations which spring up like mushrooms throughout the year. If unauthorized construction leads to expropriation, my corner of the county should look like Zimbabwe after the inauguration of Robert Mugabe. But it doesn’t, so this rationale is hogwash.
Actually, the Board of Commissioners wanted the Barrie property to add to the county’s stash of “open space” and as a “travel corridor” for lynx and wolverines. No one knows how many of the latter there are in Colorado; estimates range from 25 to a wildly optimistic 300, and if the last one sighted wants to come to Summit County, he’d have to take a bus, not walk. But never mind that. The BOC wanted the Barrie property, so they laid plans to take it.
Perhaps commissioners realized how this would look; their decision to proceed with eminent domain seizure was evidently taken in an October 2013 “special meeting” for which no records have been made public. But the action speaks for itself.
As with the parcel at the beginning, the Barries’ land is private property. As with the parcel, if the county prevails, private property will have been grabbed for the use and satisfaction of others, simply because they wanted it. Because they thought they deserved it more than the owners did. Because they could. A more chilling example of arbitrary power is difficult to imagine, and that’s saying something in this time of chilling examples.
The sanctity of private property has been recognized since the political theorists of the 17th century as the most important foundation of a free society. Its use, and the use of other privately-held resources, is what makes life apart from the state possible. Take away its protections and we are all one step further toward becoming serfs, not citizens. And if you think this is much ado about little, remember: what can be done to one, can be done to another. Or to anyone.
So par-tay, dudes. And pray that next time, you aren’t the one stuck with the bill for others’ wants. Or what they think they deserve, just because.
Morgan Liddick lives in Summit County and writes a weekly column for the Summit Daily News.