National Park Service Policy: “Agree or Else”

In the summer of 1988 the National Park Service and its boosters ran into a firestorm of protest when they tried to expand the Minute Man National Historic Park in Concord, Lincoln and Lexington, Massachussetts, the site of the outbreak of the American Revolution 20 miles west of Boston.

Created in 1959, this National Park was the first in the nation to be carved out of predominantly privately owned property following promises to some 150 frightened home owners, farmers and small business owners that eminent domain would not be used. Almost 30 years later the preservationists wanted over 30 more homes and land, and to close a major road.

But long-time local residents still remembered the carnage when the National Park Service broke its promises and ruthlessly seized private property to create the park – in the name of our nation's battle for freedom and the rights of the individual.

Following the usual official denials of the park's history and insistence that under a policy of "willing buyer, willing seller" condemnation would not be used for the expansion, a local reporter called the head of Park Service land acquisition in Wasington, DC, Will Kriz. Kriz bluntly revealed that "willing seller" is meaningles and that unless the legislation authorizing the park prohibits condemnation the normal practice is to take property by eminent domain if "negotiations" do not succeed. (Prohibition of condemnation at National Parks is rare, and is always subject to change.)

CONCORD JOURNAL Thursday, July 14, 1988 Page 10

Top park official calls willing buyer, willing seller
method of buying land "meaningless"

By John Macone staff writer

The "willing buyer, willing seller" procedure of acquiring land, touted by park officials, is "meaningless" and a more proactive method is generally used, a top National Park Service official said.

"The term willing buyer, willing seller is meaningless. Everyone is willing to sell at some price," said William Kriz, chief of the National Park Service's Land Resources Division in Washington, D. C.

He said, "willing buyer, willing seller makes it almost impossible for the park to expand. It's a very time consuming process."

According to the park service's draft general management plan for the minute Man National Historical Park, about 32 homes in Concord, Lexington and Lincoln are being considered for acquisition, either by means of a willing buyer, willing seller arrangement or by eminent domain.

The mechanism through which 85 percent of all park lands are acquired is negotiated purchase, Kriz said, with the remainder acquired through condemnation.

Negotiated purchase, Kriz said, is a proactive way of acquiring land. Congress sets aside acquisition money, and park service representatives are sent out to negotiate a price with the owners. The park service contracts an appraiser to determine the full market value of the land, which by law is the minimum amount it can pay for it, he said.

If the homeowner asks for a slightly higher price that the park service thinks is reasonable, Congressional approval is needed to get the extra funds necessary, he said.

If no negotiation is made, he said the park service uses condemnation to get the land. "We always try to buy the property first, and always use condemnation as a last resort, but not unless we have to," Kriz said.

However, he noted condemnation cannot be used if the enabling legislation specifically prohibits it.

In public meetings, Park Superintendent Bob Nash has stated several times he would "strongly recommend" condemnation not be used in the legislation, unless the land were needed for a roadway.  However, the wording of the legislation is "in the hands of Congress," he said.

Nash said the park's land acquisition once would handle the actual purchases, and he would have little direct involvement in it.

Kriz said the park service also has an "emergency hardship fund" of about $1 to $2 million annually, which is used to buy land earmarked for acquisition if the park service's interest in it impedes on the owner's attempts to sell, or if the land is about to be developed contrary to the park's interests. Kriz could not say how many landowners ask for hardship funds.

A total of $330 million worth of land is slated for acquisition with no funding available now to buy it, Kriz said. Predicting when Congress would make the funds available would be tantamount to looking into a crystal ball and asking the same question, he said.

When Congress passes legislation allowing the park service to expand or create parks, rarely does it allocate enough to cover all the costs, he said.

View Standard National Park Service Threat Letter to Property Owner: Sell or Else

Back to "Willing Seller Myth"

Back to Property Rights Home

Last Update: 11/27/03