Canal caper demonstrates how 
some view private property rights

I hate to belabor the use of the term “zombie,” given its prevalence these days, but some issues that ought to be close to assuming room temperature just keep popping up.

This week, it was the old debate about using private roadways along the various canals in the Grand Valley as recreational destinations.

I realize that the term “private property” seems to have less meaning these days, and we seem to be growing from the bad idea that government owns all the money and we just have it temporarily to the corollary that government also owns all the land and we’re just squatters.

There is a good reason to think that’s the direction things are going, with many of the eminent domain cases in the last 10 years seeming to indicate that if a group of elected or appointed officials decide that private property might be better used doing something else, government can just direct its use.

There must be some form of compensation for outright taking it under our Constitution, at least so far, but there are different ways to force public use on private entities.

For years the ditch companies have been publicly sweated by various small, vocal pressure groups to turn over a portion of control regarding their land so that assorted members of the public can enjoy what they created, apparently at no cost. I can understand the impulse — some of my neighbors have great backyards and I think it quite imperialistic of them to deny the usage of these areas, should I want to throw a kegger.

I understand that to a few, this narrow, capitalistic way of viewing property and investment may seem churlish, but we have a way of creating areas for public use that involves first buying them and then building them.

My great-grandfather helped build both the Grand Valley canal system and North Avenue. Each has a specific use and both benefit the public. The financing for their creation and continued usage, however, was different.

The purely public roadway was financed by all the taxpayers because of its more universal usage.

The canal system created a public good, but the creation of a private product was used to pay for its construction and maintenance.

It seems obvious to me that industry creates the need for infrastructure, not the other way around, as our president seems to think.

The railroads helped create many of the towns and shipping points for products, but at the time, their main goal was to get somewhere and make money. The public good that came out of that, assisted by government programs, was incidental and was created almost as though by an invisible hand.

What a great metaphor — I need to write that down.

An urban trail system, sought after by many of our local recreationists, would be a lot of fun. But as this week’s stories in the Sentinel point out, every iteration of a plan includes more area. This is something easy to promote if, rather than coming up with hard cash, one simply advocates for government coercion. Unlike money, that seems endless.

The plan was scrapped Monday evening, but if the city of Grand Junction were so interested in establishing such a program, perhaps it could offer to pay a sum of money to the various canal companies for their usage and join in a legislative lobbying effort to get some sort of reduced liability profile for such projects in the state.

This might be a superior tactic to pressuring the ditch companies and trying to get developers to grant easements for urban trails in their new development proposals as a condition of approval.

Lastly, a great example of hard work to provide privately funded amusement to the public passed away this week, Robert Guyton, founder of Guyton’s Fun Park. He knew me as one of his son’s friends, and despite seeing me up close, he nevertheless hired me for two seasons. There I acquired job skills, like how to properly vacuum a miniature golf course. I also learned it was simple to start your own business: You just work all the time.

Some may say James Brown was the hardest working man in entertainment, but I know it was Bob Guyton.

Rick Wagner writes more on politics at his blog, The War on Wrong.


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