Foxconn's Wisconsin plant moves one step closer, upsetting homeowners

Foxconn, one of the world's largest manufacturers of electronic gear, is one step closer to building a $10 billion plant in a suburb of Racine, Wisconsin. But the planned project is making enemies among some local homeowners. 

The village board of Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin, voted on Monday to designate the entire development site as "blighted," allowing it to seize the land needed to build the complex. That land includes about 2,800 acres of farmland and several dozen homes.

The village had offered to buy homes for 140 percent of their assessed value, but some homeowners said that figure was too low and sued for more money.

What does "blighted" mean?

Despite the connotation of "blight," a word that conjures up abandoned buildings or rundown neighborhoods, the designation in this case is a legal term rather than a qualitative judgment. Wisconsin state law says a property can be deemed blighted if it's predominantly open or impedes the growth of the community.

Most of the homeowners affected by Foxconn's plans have agreed to sell their property or will be subject to eminent domain, a legal proceeding that allows the government to seize private land for a development. 

However, a dozen property owners filed a federal lawsuit in January, arguing that the village's use of eminent domain is unconstitutional because it would benefit a private company, Foxconn, rather than the public. They also say the amounts offered for their homes are too low. 

"Tonight's approval of the redevelopment plan is one more sign of progress toward Foxconn's $10 billion, 22 million square foot advanced manufacturing campus," Village President David DeGroot said in a statement.

Only one board member, Gary Feest, voted against the motion Monday night.

"I have a conscience, and when I stand before God and he says, 'Did you determine it was blighted for a legal technicality to further this project along?' I'm going to tell him -- It's not blighted," he said at the meeting.

Groundbreaking scheduled 

The development is scheduled to break ground on June 28, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

This would be the first U.S. factory for Foxconn, which employs about 1 million people in China and is an assembler for major brands like Apple and Sony. The development will eventually employ 13,000 workers at the plant, Foxconn said. 

President Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan, who represents the district, have both touted the plant as a win for U.S. manufacturing. In wooing Foxconn to locate the plant in the state, Wisconsin officials offered the company $3 billion in tax and other financial incentives. That subsidy drew objections from many residents as well as free-market conservatives, such as the Koch brothers. 

At that price, Wisconsin taxpayers will wait 25 years to earn back the money spent on the deal, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau

The Associated Press contributed reporting.