Eminent Domain, or condemnation, allows for the government to take private property for public use. This means the government can take private property to build roads, parks, or other governmental projects.
While the Texas Constitution requires the government to pay landowners for the land the government takes, there are many affected by the government exercising condemnation powers who are never adequately compensated.
An Example: Proposed High-Speed Rail
The proposed high-speed rail project provides an example of these landowners. The proposed railway will run between Dallas, Texas and Houston, Texas. In order to build a railway between Dallas and Houston, the government must lay track where the trains will run. There are multiple proposed routes for the train, all of which will require the government to use private land for these tracks.
The Constitutionally Protected Landowner
The Texas Constitution requires that the government pay adequate compensation for the land being taken. This means that if the government takes private land for a public purpose, the government must pay a “reasonable compensation” to the landowner.
If the tracks run directly over an individual’s property, the Texas Constitution protects the landowner. By laying tracks over the land, the government is effectively “taking” the land from the private landowner. Thus, the Texas constitution requires that these landowners be compensated for the government’s use of their land.
The Uncompensated Landowners
The individuals who own land around the railway are left without compensation, even though these properties may be negatively affected.
The proposed train will run every 30 minutes to 1 hour. Obviously, trains can be extremely noisy. If a train is running near a landowners property every 30 minutes, the noise from the trains can be distracting, annoying, and may even interfere with the owners business. Additionally, if the land is located near a train station, there will be a dramatic increase in traffic as people are traveling to and from the train station. Not only can the train affect the landowner’s personal life and business, the trains may reduce the value of the land. A buyer may be deterred from purchasing a property because of the noise, traffic, and other effects of the train.
While the landowners in the first group receive “adequate compensation”, the second group is left with property that has been greatly devalued by the government’s use of Eminent Domain. However, Texas law does not provide any remedy for those landowners in the second group. They must either learn to live with the noise, people, and traffic, or attempt to sell their property at a greatly reduced rate.