Tag Archives: property

Eagle, Earnings and Eminent Domain

Lundin Mining CEO Paul Conibear seems to have expected questions about the Eagle Mine on this morning’s Q4 2013 earnings call. At the outset, he announced that Senior Vice President Paul McRae was on hand to answer any questions about Eagle analysts might have. But to my surprise there was not a single question about Eagle. Analysts seemed content to rely on the company’s guidance.

Conibear sounded an optimistic note. Despite a “brutal winter,” he said, Eagle is fully on track for production of nickel and copper concentrates by the end of 2014. Underground drilling at the mine proceeds apace, and the mill is “a beehive of activity.”

Neither he nor McRae were called upon to address transportation at the mine, which is still unresolved and may soon run into new legal challenges.

At the start of this week, the Marquette County Road Commission announced that they “can” – or at least they “plan” — to use eminent domain to seize property for County Road AAA. This came as a surprise to some people at the hearing and to the owners of a piece of land along the AAA route known as the Hingst property. The Hingst are not interested in selling. So whether the Road Commission can do what it plans to do may be left for the courts to decide.

The analysts on this morning’s call seemed either unaware or unconcerned that Eagle’s haul road might be delayed by litigation – or that the route between the mine and the beehive of activity at the mill is approaching a legal crossroads. Of course, Lundin Mining has deep pockets and can continue to fight legal challenges as they arise; but eminent domain controversies are not always easily or speedily resolved and the county may not have the stomach for protracted litigation over property rights and the divisiveness it can create.

You wouldn’t imagine that anything can stand in the mining company’s way from local news coverage of the AAA road. Interviewed by Molly Smerika of ABC10 News, Marquette County Road Commission Engineer Manager Jim Iwanicki tried to tout the public benefits of the AAA, advancing the disingenuous argument that the haul road will be a “public road, for everybody”; and Smerika didn’t bother to ask what he meant by that, or just how the Eagle Mine trucking route will serve the public good.

Smerika even gave Iwanicki a pass on the specious claim that the local “tourism industry” will benefit from the 55 MPH haul road. What could be more relaxing than a high-speed drive in heavy truck traffic? Spectacular roadkill the whole family can enjoy.

In that same interview, Iwanicki mistakenly calls the mining industry a “benefactor” of the AAA road. He clearly meant “beneficiary,” but it’s a telling slip. Lundin has taken over where Rio Tinto left off, as the chief if not the sole driver of infrastructure development and, it appears, public policy in Marquette County. After the CR 595 fiasco, the Road Commission seems determined to deliver for the mining company; but until the county takes the Hingst property, there is still room for doubt whether the confident guidance on the Eagle project we heard this morning is fully warranted.

On Machiavelli, on the house

One would think Silvio Berlusconi had read Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince. Having risen to power through sheer financial might and the application of political muscle, Mr. Berlusconi should never have expected to be loved. But the Italian Premier is as much a creation as the creator of his television empire: he mistakes his power for popularity, or at least he thinks that one should translate to the other.

Why do they hate me so much?
Berlusconi asked his father confessor, after learning that his attacker, Massimo Tartaglia, had gained an enthusiastic following on Facebook and around the social web. Could it simply be that this prince of the television world really doesn’t understand the way the Internet now works, how its communities form, the fascinations that take hold and bring people together — in a moment, for a moment?

Or was it a Machiavellian ruse to garner sympathy? An old prince suffers a beating at the hands of a crazy man then confides to his father confessor with dismay that he just doesn’t understand what he did to deserve this, doesn’t understand what those young people have against him, knowing full well that the father confessor will make this confession public. “They” become the heartless enemy, without pity for the battered prince, or reverence for old age; “they” become the source of everybody’s grief.

It seems to have worked. Judging, at least, from the editorial pages, public opinion in Italy has shifted back in Mr. Berlusconi’s favor. And now another Facebook community has formed, denouncing Mr. Tartaglia’s gratuitous act of violence and shaming his supporters. Maybe Silvio Berlusconi will get a little love after all.

Be that as it may, the whole incident, which has already faded from the news, led me back to chapter 17 of The Prince, where Machiavelli argues that it is better for a prince to be more feared, than loved. “For love is held by a chain of obligation which, men being selfish, is broken whenever it serves their purpose; but fear is maintained by a dread of punishment, which never fails.” The trouble, however, is that in making oneself feared, one risks incurring the hatred of others.

The prince will avoid hatred if he “abstains from interfering with the property of his citizens and subjects or with their women,” Machiavelli writes. Roba and donne — the stuff and women of others — are untouchable; touching them, taking them, is a violation Machiavelli tellingly calls rapina — rapine.

As I read it, this is all about respecting the integrity and even the sanctity of the house, where both women and property are kept. (And forget your twenty-first century prejudices long enough to remember that in early modern Italy, women belonged to the house, even when they ventured forth from it.) The prince may more readily take someone’s life “when there is proper justification and manifest reason for it” than violate the house:

Above all [the prince] must abstain from taking the property of others, for men forget more easily the death of their father than the loss of their patrimony. Then also pretexts for seizing property are never wanting; and one who lives by rapine will always find some reason for taking the goods of others.

You can probably follow J.G.A. Pocock’s lead from this passage to later thinking about property and liberty from the depredations of princes. Whether any of this helps to answer the question Mr. Berlusconi put to his priest I’ll leave for others, with more knowledge of the Italian scene, to decide. A quick Google search for Berlusconi and rapina — which I hoped might shed some light on the issue — yields only a story about a bank robbery in Torino last February where one of the robbers wore a Berlusconi mask. The other was disguised as Mr. Berlusconi’s senior advisor, Marcello dell’Utri.

The grid in my garden

When I moved house at the end of August, I decided to forgo the land line and rely entirely on wireless for my telephone service.

Even the most basic land package from Verizon seems overpriced, the legacy of a bygone era when telephone customers didn’t have many options. Besides, I already do most of my telephone work on my blackberry; the signal in the new place is strong; and I use cable for my internet connection (because it’s faster than DSL, not because I like the cable companies any more than I like Verizon).

Verizon’s wires still run through the place, previous residents and tenants over the past half century having installed a telephone in nearly every room. I’ve traced the wires from their origin on a pole just on the other side of the fence at the far end of our garden. The wires run the length of the garden, through the branches of trees, winding together in some places with creeping vines, weighed down in others by the heavy summer growth. They reach the house at a central hub or switch box, at which point they creep up and across the brick walls, where they find entry, through the brick and into the house. Once inside, the lines follow the trim and molding, angle to mimic a corner, and master the contours of every room’s interior, until they reach a jack.

The lines are held in place with staples. I have already spent some time removing these staples and pulling telephone wires out from the walls, cutting them close to the little holes where they emerge, and generally trying to rid the place of them. (I’ll need to do the same with all the television cables running into the house, with the exception of the one carrying my internet connection.)

We’ve gotten so accustomed to having all these lines and cables and cords creep through our homes that we no longer realize just how intrusive all this old wire technology is. The wires are unsightly. They ruin the molding and get in the way of painting. And now they’re dead: they no longer carry a signal or a voice. In certain moods I see them as reminders of absence, of lost connections, of loss.

I get a certain satisfaction from removing the wires inside the house, but now I’m wondering what it would take to get Verizon to clean up its equipment, take down the line that runs to the house from the pole in the back of the garden, pull down the lines that run up the back of the house, remove the switch box, and get all its gear off the property.

So far as I have been able to determine, Verizon’s ownership of the telephone wires is not really in question, even though regulatory changes from the 1960s through the 1990s have required the telephone companies to “behave neutrally” and to allow other service providers (like ISPs) to access their wires. Yet it also appears that the law of trespass is not entirely settled when it comes to telephone lines.

Airplanes and telephone lines once tested the law of trespass; they required exceptions and accommodations. But things change. A previous property owner allowed Verizon to string lines across and above my property. What if I now deem them a nuisance? And imagine what might happen to those easements and allowances if hundreds or thousands or even millions of property owners were to ask the telephone companies to take down their lines.

Most people probably consider the lines and cables and wires on their property none of their concern. In exchange for services, we’ve allowed the phone and power and cable companies to encroach and build on our property; and we’ve grown used to seeing the stuff everywhere we go.

That is not likely to change. New technologies (like fiber optic) and bundled services will most likely allow the phone companies to convert and upgrade rather than tear down the infrastructure they have in place. But I’m not interested. I want the grid out of my garden.