Sunday, May 14, 2017

Eminent domain fight pits two of Texas' sacred cows against each other

Richard Thorpe III knew he had to sell a section of his western Texas ranch for a line of electric transmission towers. But he also knew that the utility taking his property under eminent domain was lowballing him, offering less than $50,000 for mile-long swath of pasture and oak trees that abuts the family cemetery. Thorpe appealed that price to a special commission of landowners, which pegged the value in excess of $600,000. Still, it was at best a partial victory for the cattle rancher, who spent more than half that amount on lawyer's fees, appraisals and other expenses to contest the utility's valuation. "You are at a huge disadvantage," said Thorpe, who is also president of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association which represents 17,500 beef cattle operations. "The landowner loses and the condemning entity wins and we're stuck looking at an eye sore." Thorpe is among the landowners who have found they can't recover their legal costs even if they win their cases, a provision of Texas law that they say provides incentives for utilities, pipeline companies and government entities to undervalue properties in eminent domain takings, discourages landowners from challenging low prices and ultimately leaves them with less than the full value of their property because of high costs of litigation. The issue, which pits two of the sacred cows of Texas politics -- property rights and the energy industry-- against each other, has long simmered in Austin, where ranchers, farmers and other landowners have battled pipeline and transmission companies, as well as government agencies, which argue that allowing the recovery of legal expenses would only encourage more lawsuits and raise the cost of projects...more

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