SAN ANGELO STANDARD-TIMES: Eminent domain big concern for landowners

By Jerry Lackey

Posted: Oct. 29, 2016

Although laws have been passed to improve the use of eminent domain in the Lone Star State, many landowners still experience abuses by the entities that exercise this extreme power, according to a news release from Fort Worth-based Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association.

A voter-approved amendment to the Texas Constitution in 2009 prohibited the taking of private property for economic development, and Senate Bill 18 in 2011 made changes to the condemnation process, but eminent domain remains at the forefront of concerns for Texas landowners.

Owners continue to struggle with an unbalanced set of laws that are at odds with a state known for private-property rights. Despite past efforts, condemning entities continue to hold an unfair advantage over landowners, who are forced to sell their property without truly being compensated thereafter.

"Landowners feel they're not getting a fair shake and that their rights are being ignored," Texas Farm Bureau President Russell Boening told a recent hearing of the Senate Committee on State Affairs.

He said high-stakes negotiations and lowball offers occur too often during eminent-domain proceedings in Texas. The current law favors for-profit companies, giving landowners few options in a fight for their property.

About 95 percent of land in Texas is privately owned, which places the needs of the public in direct conflict with the rights of Texas property owners. When conflicts arise, there are no willing-buyer and willing-seller transactions, and events often play out in expensive, time-consuming, stressful and unfair situations, resulting in bad outcomes for the property owners.

The state population is on the fast track with rapid growth; therefore, there is an increasing need for more property to build infrastructure for the utilization of natural resources and to address transportation needs. While property owners recognize these demands, they also realize that their property rights must be better protected, Boening said.

"Our family has had more than one experience where an entity condemned our property and did not act in good faith to take our land," said TSCRA director Leslie Kinsel.

"In one case, a court awarded compensation that was over 600 percent more than the condemning entity's first offer. In another, the condemning entity settled for approximately 10 times its first offer, but only after we had incurred tens of thousands of dollars in legal expenses to challenge the taking," Kinsel said.

In Austin last week, TSCRA was joined by 14 other Texas-based organizations to form Texans for Property Rights, a coalition focused on a grass roots initiative for meaningful reform to state eminent domain laws.

The coalition comprises TSCRA, Texas Farm Bureau, Texas Wildlife Association, Texas Forestry Association, South Texans' Property Rights Association, Texas Poultry Association, Texas Sheep and Goat Raisers' Association, Independent Cattlemen's Association, Texas Grain Sorghum Association, Plains Cotton Growers, Inc., Corn Producers Association of Texas, Riverside & Landowners Protection Coalition, Texas Land & Mineral Owners Association, Texas Association of Dairymen and Texas Cattle Feeders Association.

Property rights are the cornerstone of Texas' freedom, and they are worth the fight. It is for this reason these grass roots organizations have formed the Texans for Property Rights coalition, Boening said.

For more information or to get involved, call Laramie Adams at the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association at 512-922-7328 or Gene Hall at Texas Farm Bureau at 254-751-2246.

Jerry Lackey is agriculture editor emeritus. Contact him at jlackey@wcc.net.