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West Texas Rancher Says Pipeline Company Surveyors Trespassed

James Spriggs, of the Spriggs Ranch south of Marfa, says he discovered this pipeline survey stake on his property after previously refusing to let surveyors come onto his property. (Travis Bubenik / KRTS)

A West Texas rancher says land surveyors came onto his property without permission while planning a route for a natural gas pipeline. The pipeline company says it was an accident.

Presidio County rancher James Spriggs of the Spriggs Ranch recently found survey stakes spread out in a line across part of his land.

The find prompted him to put up a “no trespassing sign” on one of his gates, which he says he’d never done before.

“We never really had problems with people coming onto us without permission in the past,” he says. “This is a whole new ball game.”

Spriggs says he'd already refused multiple times to let surveyors come onto his ranch. The discovery surprised him, because he was actually getting ready to change his mind.

“I was basically ready to go ahead and sign just to get ‘em out of my hair,” he says. “But the last time they caught me on a bad afternoon and said ‘you either sign it now or we’ll have a court order in 48 hours.’”

“At that point, I told ‘em bring the court order and bring the sheriff too,” he says.

That never happened, and Spriggs says he hasn't heard from the surveyors since.

Dallas-based Energy Transfer is the company behind the planned pipeline.

The company says in June its workers did unintentionally set out survey stakes on the ranch without permission, thinking they were still on part of the neighboring ranch, which had given permission for surveys.

A company spokesperson wouldn't agree to an interview, but said in a statement the confusion came from “unclear county records regarding an old property transaction that shifted property lines,” and that the mistake wasn't discovered until after the surveying was finished.

“We have been in communication with Mr. Spriggs during the past few months to discuss voluntary survey permission, which we still hope to receive so we can perform this vital step in determining the safest and most constructible route,” Spokesperson Lisa Dillinger said in an email.

Spriggs says he's consulting with an attorney and likely would go to court with the company if it comes down to it.

“Some of us don’t like getting run over like this,” he says. “When you spend your life savings to try to have something where you’re kinda left alone by people, to have ‘em come knocking on your door and jumping your fences and coming across, it’s not a good thing to do.”

The company says it never went back on the ranch to remove the stakes after realizing the error, and it maintains the incident was unintentional.

Travis Bubenik is All Things Considered Host and Big Bend Reporter at Marfa Public Radio.