By CAMERON DODD
PRESIDIO COUNTY — As numerous landowners in Brewster and Presidio counties still face condemnation hearings, one Far West Texas rancher is taking legal action against the Trans-Pecos Pipeline.
Presidio County landowner John Boerschig is suing the Trans-Pecos Pipeline (TPP) company on the grounds that its use of eminent domain to take private land is unconstitutional. Boerschig faces a condemnation hearing on 13 acres of his nearly 11,000-acre South Shurley Ranch and is also seeking a preliminary injunction against the controversial natural gas pipeline.
Boerschig’s case was filed with the U.S. District Court in Pecos on Friday, July 1. It has implications for broader Texas law: the case asserts that Texas laws granting eminent domain to public utilities violate the clause in the 14th amendment to the U.S. constitution prohibiting government from making or enforcing law that deprives Americans of property without due process.
Texas state law grants eminent domain power to companies seeking to condemn land for public utility projects. Boerschig’s case asserts that without a procedure for Texas landowners to challenge a company claiming to be a public utility, such as TPP, the law denies due process rights guaranteed by the 14th amendment to the U.S. constitution.
Additionally, the State of Texas does not set any standards regulating the use of eminent domain powers, according to the case citation.
“It’s a no-strings-attached, standardless delegation of government power to a private entity,” Attorney Renae Hicks said. “There’s no accountability, they do not have to report to anyone.” Hicks, an Austin-based attorney, is representing Boerschig in the case.
Texas law, he said, lacks a process to challenge a private company claiming the power of eminent domain for use in the public interest.
As it stands, the law allows TPP control of condemned land after either settling on compensation privately with landowners or after a special commission awards damages to landowners in a public hearing. Either way, all that is to be determined is the value of damages to the remainder of the landowner’s property caused by the pipeline.
TPP’s status as a public utility with eminent domain power can only be legally questioned when the special commission’s award decision is challenged in court.