Foxconn land dispute: Property owners are furious

A group of Wisconsin property owners are suing in federal court over local government efforts to take their land as part of the incentive package for a Foxconn factory there.

The 12 property owners hold 18 acres of land that the Village of Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin, is seeking to take via the power of eminent domain.

The Village of Mount Pleasant has agreed to buy the land where Foxconn will build its factory and give it to the company for free as part of a package of state and local government incentives valued at more than $4 billion. The steep cost of the incentive package has sparked criticism in Wisconsin, and is expected to be a major issue in this year’s gubernatorial race.

Governments have broad powers to take land for public improvements such as roads or government buildings, though they must pay a fair market value for the property. The suit argues that the attempt to take the land is illegal because most of it will be given to Foxconn, not used by the town. And it argues that even the portion of the land that is used for new roads doesn’t qualify for eminent domain because the roads are only being built for Foxconn’s benefit.

Foxconn, a Taiwan-based contract electronics manufacturer, is best known as the company that builds things like iPhones at massive factories in China, where employees not only work but live. It’s expected to spend at least $9 billion to build the plant, which will employ between 3,000 to 13,000 workers to build flat screens.

The suit charges that the property owners are getting far less than other property owners who have already sold their land to the town for the factory. The attorney filing the suit, Erik Olsen, said he’s not sure if he and his clients will be able to stop the factory from being built. But he argues that the government should have to follow the laws about property purchases, which dictate that all the owners must be treated equally when it comes to pricing.

“My clients believe, and I believe too, that they should be treated justly,” he said. “Is it really OK to pay some people multiples of their land value, and other people not? The government has broad powers but not totally arbitrary powers.”

The attorney for the village, which is a defendant in the suit, did not respond to a request for comment.

The land is very rural — each parcel is at least 1.5 acres. The suit says the current property owners enjoy their “privacy and quiet pleasures or rural life in their homes,” including such activities as snowmobiling, boating, swimming, fishing, hunting, “and the aesthetic enjoyment of things as simple as sunsets.”

All of them say that if they’re forced to move they intend to stay in the area.