Richard Thorpe III knew he had to sell a section of his western Texas ranch for a line of electric transmission towers. But he also knew that the utility taking his property under eminent domain was lowballing him, offering less than $50,000 for a mile-long swath of pasture and oak trees that abut the family cemetery.
Thorpe appealed that price to a special commission of landowners, which pegged the value in excess of $600,000. Still, it was at best a partial victory for the cattle rancher, who spent more than half that amount on lawyer's fees, appraisals, and other expenses to contest the utility's evaluation.
"You are at a huge disadvantage," said Thorpe, who is also president of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association which represents 17,500 beef cattle operations. "The landowner loses and the condemning entity wins and we're stuck looking at an eyesore."
Thorpe is among the landowners who have found they can't recover their legal costs even if they win their cases, a provision of Texas law that they say provides incentives for utilities, pipeline companies and government entities to undervalue properties in eminent domain takings, discourages landowners from challenging low prices and ultimately leaves them with less than the full value of their property because of high costs of litigation.