Eminent domain could pose problems for beef producers in central Texas where a high speed railroad is being proposed.
By: Pete Bonds, president, Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association
In 1933, my father bought land in Saginaw, Texas, and I have been ranching on it since the age of 18. This property is also where I raised my family, who work alongside with me today running our cattle operation.
As a lifetime cattle rancher and someone who has worked hard to build our business, I understand the importance of private property rights. I also realize how frustrating it can be when an entity wants to condemn property through the eminent domain process for self-gain, because I have dealt with this issue first-hand.
At the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA), we’ve received many phone calls, letters and email messages and have listened to concerns at meetings about the Texas Central Railway (TCR), one of the latest projects that will require the use of eminent domain to be built.
TCR is a Japanese-funded, private railroad company that is proposing to build a high-speed passenger rail line from Dallas to Houston. It is expected to require over 3,000 acres of right-of-way for the railway and related infrastructure that will harmfully impact the private property of landowners in 11 counties. These counties include: Dallas, Ellis, Freestone, Grimes, Harris, Leon, Limestone, Madison, Montgomery, Navarro and Waller Counties.
TCR only has stations slated on both ends of the line that will send at least 60 trains each day at over 200 mph through some of the best cattle country and farmland in the state.
Ranchers and landowners along the proposed route in these counties are extremely concerned about the project, and they have a right to be. They worry that the railway will negatively affect their ability to graze and move cattle, transport equipment and continue to efficiently and effectively use their property.
TCR has claimed they can meet the needs of each and every landowner along the route, however with their plan requiring them to build the railway on a flat surface and straight route, it will be impossible for them to meet all of these specific needs.
The leaders and members of TSCRA understand that various transportation options are needed to address the mobility issues of our state, but TCR is not the answer. This project will transport passengers only from Dallas to Houston with no stops and still require additional transportation to and from the rail stations. Landowners and rural communities will have no convenient access to the line and will not benefit. In fact, property values in proximity to the railway will be adversely impacted.
With TCR being largely funded by a Japanese bank, the long-term financial security and stability of the project remains uncertain and could eventually impact Texas taxpayers.
While it is still unclear whether or not TCR has the power of eminent domain, they do plan to use this power to gain the land necessary to construct the massive high-speed railway. This is personally my biggest concern with the project.
The eminent domain issue goes far beyond the TCR project. It is a topic that has been debated often over the years. This railway project is only one of the latest examples of an entity threatening to use eminent domain to take land for what they consider “public use.”
Under the current eminent domain process, a private company can seize private property for public use. In my opinion, the current structure for determining what is truly public use is highly questionable, and I do not believe a private company should have the authority to use eminent domain just because they believe they meet the qualifications for public use. There must be a thorough and transparent process for making these critical decisions to take someone’s property.
My family and I have worked extremely hard over the years to build a cattle operation that relies heavily on the land to be successful. Raising cattle is our way of life and having any entity come in and take away any amount of land through eminent domain makes it difficult for us to accomplish our job. I know there are many who share the same concerns, because TSCRA has heard directly from these individuals on the proposed high-speed railway project.
Because of the statewide implication of this sizable and unique project, TSCRA is opposed to the use of eminent domain by the TCR. Moving forward, we will continue listening to members who are worried about the negative impacts of this project. We will also support legislative and regulatory efforts that limit the authority of private high-speed passenger rail companies to use the power of eminent domain for their profit while forever harming land values and stripping landowner rights.
Pete Bonds has ranched his entire life. He operates the Bonds Ranch in Saginaw, Texas, where he also lives. Bonds currently serves as the president of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association. He and his wife Jo have 3 daughters, Missy, Bonnie and April.