The Common Law
Eminent domain & high-voltage power lines – how does the condemnation process start?
The LCRA sent me notice that it is considering several routes to build big, ugly electric transmission lines. One of the proposed routes crosses my property. I'm worried that the LCRA will pick my property to cross with the power line. What happens next?
The LCRA plans to build high-voltage electric lines in Williamson, Gillespie, and Guadalupe counties in the next year. The LCRA projects can take months or years before an eminent domain lawsuit is filed, including determination of the specific route and the initial offer process. This can be a challenging time for property owners waiting to learn if or when their property will be condemned.
In Texas, the Public Utility Commission (PUC) holds hearings to approve the final route of electric transmission lines. Property owners that might be crossed by LCRA's power line are allowed to intervene in the PUC proceedings. The PUC proceeding, which can last for months or years, ultimately culminates in a final order that identifies the route of the high-voltage power line.
The LCRA is required to notify all property owners whose land will be taken once the project's route is finalized. Texas law requires the LCRA to make an initial and final offer before filing a condemnation lawsuit against the property owner. The offers will provide a property appraisal that attempts to calculate the damage caused by the high-voltage power line to the property's value. LCRA representatives will use the amount in the appraisal report to make an offer to purchase the property rights needed to construct and operate the power line.
The offers will request the landowner to respond within a specific time period. The landowner is free to accept the offer, reject it, or negotiate further. The initial offer letters sent by condemning authorities can often be both confusing and, at times, intimidating to property owners who are unfamiliar with the eminent domain process. More problematic, the offers are often much lower than the just compensation required by the U.S. and Texas Constitutions. Landowners receiving offers in condemnation matters should seek the advice of experienced eminent domain lawyers to help evaluate the property rights being taken and corresponding offer.
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Marrs, Ellis & Hodge LLP, www.jmehlaw.com.
The material in this column is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute, nor is it a substitute for, legal advice. For advice on your specific facts and circumstances, consult a licensed attorney. You may wish to contact the Lawyer Referral Service of Central Texas, a non-profit public service of the Austin Bar Association, at 512-472-8303 or www.austinlrs.com.