Eminent Domain Cases on the Rise

Eminent domain is a controversial issue for agricultural landowners – it gives public entities the right to acquire private property for public purposes, such as for highways, utility lines, etc. Frequently, agricultural production is adversely impacted due to loss of land, the inability to use current equipment for production, or the splitting up of the land.

Covey Neatherlin experienced the loss of 100 of his best pecan trees to eminent domain four years ago. This occurred when a pipeline company cut a mile-long, 60-foot-wide swath through his 200-acre farm to bury a 42-inch diameter natural gas pipeline 4 feet underground. Not only is he unhappy with the seizing of his property, but he is also upset that he wasn’t compensated for the lost trees, which he had spent 45 years nurturing. The company refused to compensate for the trees because a previous court ruling had set a precedent that a condemning authority did not have to pay for removal of the trees.

Eminent domain cases involving electrical transmission lines and gas pipelines have become more frequent in the last couple of years, states attorney Alan Ackerman. “My firm probably handled fewer that 50 eminent domain cases involving electrical transmission lines during my first 35 years of practice. During the past three years, we’ve had at least 130.” In 2005, a controversial US Supreme Court ruling now allows for private property to be condemned for private property development.

There are many ways for private property owners to prepare if they have land targeted for condemnation.