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Texas farmers stress need for eminent domain reform


By Jennifer Dorsett

State law should mandate an eminent domain process between private companies and landowners that is fair and transparent, according to Texas Farm Bureau (TFB) leadership.

TFB and other private property rights proponents are gearing up to fight for fair eminent domain law in the upcoming Texas legislative session.

TFB state directors Mark Chamblee and Neil Walter testified last month before the Texas House Land and Resource Management Committee.

They asked legislators to draft regulations that will ensure consequences for lowball offers, require public meetings for a transparent process and establish a minimum of standard easement terms in every contract.

“Let’s not put landowners in a fight with one hand tied behind their back,” Chamblee, who also serves as TFB’s vice president, said.

Currently, entities may make a low offer to a landowner without penalty or ramifications. Some companies frequently make lowball offers in hopes the landowner will accept that first deal.

It is the landowner’s responsibility to hire appraisers, attorneys and other experts to determine fair value. Entities may also threaten a lawsuit to force the landowner’s hand.

Chamblee said many TFB members don’t have the resources to fight back. He asked the committee to create penalties for entities who make unfairly low offers, deterring companies from making those types of deals as their first move.
Another issue addressed during their testimonies is the absence of any official process in condemnations by private corporations.

The Texas Department of Transportation and other public entities must hold local public meetings whenever planning and implementing any major project requiring eminent domain.

“Why aren’t private companies held to the same standard?” Chamblee asked. “A clear and public explanation of the project and standard contract terms would give landowners more confidence in fair, informed deals.”

The final suggestion proposed by TFB includes minimum standard easement terms.

In his testimony, Walter said his personal experience with a company wanting to lay a pipeline on his land was anything but clear-cut and fair.

“There were no landowner protections in the initial offer,” Walter said. “It took me aback.”

As Walter found out, landowner protections are often purposely left out of contracts and only added when the landowner protests.

“When I asked about this, the landman said the pipeline company wants to get every easement protection they can in favor of the company, not the landowner,” he said. “That’s not how we should do business in the state of Texas.”

In the 2019 legislative session, TFB will continue fighting for members’ rights to a fair and transparent process.

For more information or to find out how you can get involved, visit texansforpropertyrights.com.

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