Pipeline parallels? Eminent domain: the movie

Catherine Keener plays Susette Kelo in Little Pink House, which depicts a real-life eminent domain case and has a screening June 28 in Charlottesville. Tickets are on sale at Tugg.com. Brightlight Pictures Catherine Keener plays Susette Kelo in Little Pink House, which depicts a real-life eminent domain case and has a screening June 28 in Charlottesville. Tickets are on sale at Tugg.com. Brightlight Pictures

One of the least popular Supreme Court decisions this century would have to be Kelo v. New London, a case that resulted in 45 states, including Virginia, passing laws or, in the Old Dominion’s case, constitutional amendments to prevent the seizing of private property to benefit other private owners under the guise of economic development.

The story of Susette Kelo’s struggle to keep her home in New London, Connecticut, is documented in the film Little Pink House, starring Catherine Keener and Jeanne Tripplehorn.

Doug Hornig. Courtesy subject

Afton writer Doug Hornig sees a parallel with the controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline and its use of eminent domain to cut a swath through private property.

“I think there’s a lot of interest,” says Hornig, who will screen Little Pink House June 28 at Regal Stonefield and follow the movie with a brief panel discussion.

In Kelo’s case, New London decided to scoop up her modest waterfront home, pitting Kelo and her blue-collar neighbors against Big Pharma. The theory was that if Pfizer redeveloped the seized properties, it would promote economic development and generate increased tax revenues, thus contributing to the public good. The Supreme Court backed that thinking with a 5-4 decision on June 23, 2005.

In actuality, Pfizer merged and moved, closing its New London facility and axing 1,000 jobs. Today the waterfront property is vacant, generating no tax revenue.

In 2012, Virginia passed a constitutional amendment that declared eminent domain for economic development was not a public use, and Delegate Rob Bell led the effort to enshrine property protection into the state constitution.

Courtney Balaker wrote and directed Little Pink House, and she says she and her husband, producer Ted Balaker, are using a hybrid distribution model. The film had a limited release in five cities April 20, and through the website Tugg, people who are interested in screening it can bring it to their local theater.

That’s what Hornig did. He made a request for a screening and Regal okayed it if he sold 90 tickets.

Hornig met that minimum and was upgraded to a larger theater, which he hopes to sell out before the screening. And he’ll have 25 minutes for a panel discussion that includes Jeff Redfern from the Institute for Justice, which represented Kelo; Chuck Lollar, a Virginia Beach attorney representing several of the people fighting the Atlantic Coast Pipeline; Richard Averitt, a Nelson County entrepreneur whose business is threatened by the ACP; and Joyce Burton, a Friends of Nelson board member.

Robert McNamera is an attorney with the Institute for Justice, and he says Kelo and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline are “really different” eminent domain cases, but “there’s always a parallel” when people’s property is being taken away “unlawfully.”

If anything, the pipeline condemnations are “crazier,” says McNamera, because before property owners can adjudicate the condemnations, they must first ask the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to reconsider its granting of certificates to Dominion Energy.     

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