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For Landowners Hoping to Fight Eminent Domain, It's an "Uphill Battle"

An apparent pipeline staging site off Nopal Road in Presidio County, between Marfa and Alpine (Travis Bubenik/KRTS)

The company behind the Trans-Pecos Pipeline has started filing lawsuits to condemn land for the project in Brewster in Presidio Counties - evoking its power of "eminent domain."

If a pipeline is designated a "public utility" in Texas - which the Trans-Pecos line is - the company building it can use the courts to get access to private land, even if the landowners aren't on board.

Energy Transfer, the company behind the Trans-Pecos Pipeline, has repeatedly insisted that it only uses that power as a "last resort." Judging by the language in at least two of the lawsuits filed in Brewster County, the company now feels negotiations with these landowners have reached a dead end.

The lawsuits say the company has been unable to reach an agreement with the landowners, and that “any further negotiations to purchase and/or reach an agreement for the acquisition of same would be futile.” (We should note that one landowner being sued - rancher Joel Nelson - told us while we were reporting this story in early February that he had received multiple payment offers from the company, but had not agreed to or even responded to any of them at the time.)

So what happens now?

To find out, we spoke with Mary Barkley, an attorney based in Fort Worth who's had experience representing both landowners and energy companies in eminent domain proceedings. Barkley joined us to explain how these cases usually play out in court and what realistic options landowners have for fighting eminent domain lawsuits.

For landowners wanting to stop a pipeline company from condemning their land, it's an "uphill battle," she says.

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