About those property rights…

After last year’s revision to the Texas Constitution, most Texans probably assumed that their property was safe from private firms looking to make money. Unfortunately, many Texans are learning the hard way that utility companies still don’t need their consent to put utility easements across their property.

A story in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (“New lines for wind energy spark anger in North Texas“) tells the story of Chan Horne’s discovery that Oncor Electric Delivery wants to erect a 125 tower on Horne’s property as part of a system of 40 miles of power lines that will bring electricity to Fort Worth. Horne wants to keep looking out at deer grazing rather than a massive steel tower.

In east Texas, Michael Bishop is challenging (unsuccessfully) TransCanada’s request to survey his land to find a route for their Keystone Pipeline Project (“Resident takes issue with pipeline“). The last thing that Bishop wants is someone digging up  his carefully grown fruit trees.

Of course, the problem is that it would be impossible to send the gas and electricity we need across the state without crossing someone’s property. And, no one thinks a gas pipeline or electrical transmission lines add to the value of their home.

Many Texans thought that the protection of their property from private development was absolute after they voted to amend the Texas Constitution in 2009. However, Proposition 11 made a specific exemption that permitted taking property for “entities granted the power of eminent domain under law.” So, the Constitution only protects you as much as the Legislature will.

The poses an interesting question: What kinds of business are so essential to the economy that they should be allowed to compromise private property. Clearly, energy is a fundamental need. Roads and railways are also essential However, will we see other kinds of economic development granted this power when the Legislature sees no other way to let large projects move ahead? Someday, a city will want to attract another giant football stadium, factory, or shopping center. Will they let the property rights of a few people stand in the way of the community’s growth?

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