By Richard Thorpe, president, Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association
Recently, Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA) director Gerald Nobles shared his family’s story about how city annexation wreaked havoc on the plans he and his family had for their ranch near Midland, Texas. The Nobles family invested generations in managing the natural resources of their ranch land, producing beef and being a good neighbor to the city, only to have annexation draped across his land like a smothering blanket, obstructing his plans for the land and surprising him with the opacity of the annexation process.
At every ranch gathering and TSCRA event, I hear heartbreaking stories from property owners who face similar problems. Condemning entities often think they have a good idea for the use of private property that does not belong to them — a pipeline, a road, a power line, water line, city annexation, or other use. Since the use is couched in terms of being for the public good, if the property owner does not want to sell right away, the land is condemned for public use by eminent domain.
In the 2015 session of the Texas Legislature, TSCRA and other organizations worked hard to place protections for property owners in the state’s eminent domain laws. We find it unfair that condemning entities offer to buy parcels of land at far below the market price. We find it reprehensible that a condemning authority might imply the property owner must accept a lowball offer, or face significant legal action. We think it’s wrong that a property owner must often hire an attorney to fight for a fair price and then pay attorney fees out of the dollars they should have been offered in the first place.
The debate about whether certain entities should have the power of eminent domain is for another time. Our members see as well as anyone that the population of Texas is growing. We see more people moving to the country and understand that our new neighbors need roads and energy.
However, it is time to give the property owner an equal say in the process of having their private land taken, supposedly for the public good.
TSCRA has a long history of working with our colleagues and the members of Texas Farm Bureau, Texas Wildlife Association, and many other Texas-based organizations to create public policy that protects the rights of property owners. In 2013, we successfully collaborated with other groups to affirm that the groundwater beneath your land belongs to you. In 2011, we made some strides in eminent domain reform, and in 2017, we hope to go further.
TSCRA and a growing coalition of 20 Texas-based organizations created a website, www.texansforpropertyrights.com, to serve as a source of information on meetings and to gather stories from property owners about their experiences with eminent domain, condemnation and other takings of their land.
I urge you to go to the website and click on the “Get Involved” button. That will take you to a page on which you can sign a petition that will show legislators the scope of the problem property owners face and will demonstrate that eminent domain reform is necessary.
That page also has links that will take you to the Eminent Domain Reform Survey, another tool we will use to gauge property owners’ experiences and share that story with policy makers.
You can also upload your story to the site, in written or video form, so others can learn from your experiences. Our shared experiences and lessons learned will give substance to the messages that TSCRA members, leaders and staff will take to the state senators and state representatives to work toward eminent domain reform in 2017.
Creating fairness in the eminent domain process is an important priority for TSCRA in the 2017 session of the Texas Legislature. Your help will be invaluable to the success of your association.
Richard Thorpe, III is the owner and operator of Mesa T Ranch, headquartered in Winters, Texas. Thorpe currently serves as the president of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA), and he became a TSCRA director in March 2006. For a photo of Thorpe click HERE.