The population of Texas continues to grow and spread out across rural counties. New residents create a demand for new roads, power resources, pipelines and water resources. These infrastructure demands shine a spotlight on Eminent Domain law because more people and more oil and gas activity require more roads, more pipelines and more power lines. However, these roads, pipelines, power lines and water lines often cross miles and miles of open Texas countryside – the vast majority of which is owned by private Texas citizens.
Private property can only be taken for a “public use” defined by the Texas Constitution as the “ownership, use and enjoyment of the property,” by the government or another entity granted Eminent Domain power. A state’s method of determining the value of property is of paramount concern to property owners, because land takings through Eminent Domain are not negotiated between a willing buyer and a willing seller.
The power to take private property for public use is only available to entities upon which the state has properly conferred condemnation authority. Texas prohibits taking property for economic development. However, if the development is secondary to alleviating harm to society from blighted property, then economic development is permitted.
The Texas legislature prohibits taking private property if it benefits a private party through the property’s use. Texas follows most states in determining a land value using a Broad Instruction Approach. Even with a written offer and a copy of the condemnor’s appraisal in hand, an average landowner is still unlikely to understand the extent of his rights and options under Eminent Domain law.