Washington County Alliance
Save a Way of Life

Preservationist Agencies and the Myth of the “Willing” Seller

“Willing Seller Willing Buyer” –

A Survey of the Not So “Willing” Sellers

by Bo W. Thott, Cutler, Maine


0. Preface Appendix 1 Frampton letter
1. Introduction Appendix 2 Survey Form
2. The Occasion to Set the Record Straight Appendix 3 National Park Service Letter on Addresses
3. Survey Appendix 4 National Park Service Condemnation Threat Letter
4. The Numbers Appendix 5 Comment Sample
5. Comments Received  
6. The Power of Eminent Domain  
7. Conclusion  


This classic study by Bo Thott of the Washington County Alliance, Maine shows how the Federal Government uses eminent domain to force property owners to become “willing sellers” under threat of condemnation. The study was done in response to a disingenuous claim in the New York Times by George Frampton, head of the Wilderness Society and later a high-ranking Clinton-Gore Interior official. Frampton wrote that there is no threat of eminent domain against private land owners by Federal preservationist agencies and accused those of opposing the national environmentalist lobby's arrogant plans for the National Park Service and other Federal agencies to take control of most of rural Maine as “whip[ing] up hysteria” over the threat to private property rights. He dishonestly implied that those forced to sell to the National Park Service had no personal interest in their property and so should be of no concern.

The pages below show that based on a national survey, private landowners ostensibly selling their properties to the National Park Service as allegedly willing sellers are in fact not bona fide “willing” sellers but instead give up their title to escape the futility of legal expenses against a foredoomed condemnation that cannot be legally stopped. Government agencies and their apologists then disingenuously publicly proclaim that the acquisitions are from “willing” sellers because the victims were not legally condemned in court. Some property owners, due to their particular circumstances, did sell willingly to the government, but the fate of the others demonstrates that none had a choice.

Reading through the sad comments of the victims (I have all the originals and have spoken with people affected by this all over the country) makes one wonder how on earth those running and promoting these preservationist government programs can live with themselves. How can they do this to another human being – and then cynically lie about it, dishonestly promoting themselves publicly as "white hats" so they can do it again to someone else? The environmentalist ideology – their vision of man and his subservient role to "nature" and raw political power on its behalf – is a rising threat to everyone as these politically well-connected activists continue to gain power.

The Thott study is based on a survey of names obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (and a law suit when the US Fish & Wildlife Service refused to comply) and discussions with property owners. It was first published in 1993 and reformatted for the web in 2001. This version is again reformatted, partly by the Property Rights Foundation of America, which also continues to make this classic study available to the public.

–Erich Veyhl
November 2003

1. Introduction


WILLING SELLERS of land to federal agencies are indeed willing just as those agencies proclaim. But with few exceptions they are not selling; they are instead subject to takings.

The “sellers” are as willing as robbery victims handing over their wallets when under the gun. The reason for their willingness to sign — going to court over a small piece of land generally means a further loss — is not explained by the land agencies. Instead they are trumpeting throughout the nation that their acquisition is not through eminent domain but through sales.

Most of those willing “sellers” are under restrictions, preventing them from improving their lots. Their land has become useless to them and commercially worthless. The only way to recover part of the investment is to have the feds take over the property and pay for the value as if there were no restrictions, as required by the Fifth Amendment. Some landowners are even desperately willing when the park agency is holding off paying for years, either for lack of appropriation from Congress or to pressure the landowners to accept low prices by having them continue paying real-estate taxes and interest on the mortgage while waiting.

A sale, as understood anywhere but in federal land agencies, is voluntary in that both parties agree on the price and no sale is mandated; no honest person able to both take the land and dictate the price would call it a sale. But park bureaucrats claim to deal with “sellers” who are told that their land will be taken in any case, the only question being whether they should take the risk spending time going to court and pay added unrecoverable legal costs or sign the document put before them.

Here is a 1993 example of parkspeak in a Fish and Wildlife folder, unchanged for years and used, with variations, by other land agencies as well. The writers of this kind of language unblushingly turn logic on its head:

“Service policy is to acquire land through condemnation” only in order to:

“settle a difference of opinion of value....

Or: Accept our offer or we take you to court.”

Flimflam logic is hard to refute but the key in this case is the false use of the term SELLER instead of LANDOWNER SUBJECT TO TAKING. One may illustrate the absurd use of the term SELLER by reversing the roles, giving the landowner the authority to both dictate the price to the federal buyer and force him to buy.



WILLING SELLERS of large tracts of land are generally more eager than small-lot owners to have the feds take over because more money is tied up in their useless land, and their mortgage payments and property taxes are greater. Furthermore, because of the generally larger discrepancies between the amounts offered by the feds and the owner-claimed values, the cases tend to be taken to court.

Fred Rullison had received subdivision approval by the town of Gouldsboro in Maine years earlier for his 24-acre half of the Bar Island off Bar Harbor in the Acadia National Park. The Park owned the other half of the island.

Congress had reneged on the commitment to the Rockefeller family not to take, by eminent domain, private land located inside the park that had been donated to the Park Service in the twenties. By a law of 1986, private land inside the park boundary can be condemned if the owner is planning improvements that the Park disapproves of. Rullison's land had become worthless.

In 1988, Rullison became impatient and as he had done in the past, threatened to build the planned four houses, this time seriously enough to induce the Park to take action. The Park offered half a million but Rullison requested $1.2 million. To get things moving, Rullison demanded court action and the Park reluctantly agreed. The Park superintendent did not wish the case ending upin court; it was Rullison who insisted, he pointed out.

With the large sum at stake it made sense for Rullison to risk taking on the additional expense of legal advice. And it paid off: after the case had gone to the US District Court in Bangor, the Park settled out of court in early 1990 for $1,000,000. By settling, Rullison saved time and money; the Park sought to save face.

The Park press release announcing the event used the term RECORD PURCHASE in the headline and the term PURCHASE twice in the text. One euphemistic sentence reads: Due to a disagreement in price, the federal government presented the matter to the federal court for adjudication....

Not once do the terms eminent domain or condemnation appear. To this day, the Acadia Park claims officially that it has not used eminent domain. Such a claim is standard Park procedure whenever settlement is reached during a court fight. Rullison settled out of court and is thus labeled a willing seller. On this basis are Park acquisition statistics presented nation-wide.

Next: 2. The Occasion to Set the Record Straight

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