When any conscientious governmental entity contemplates using its authority of eminent domain, it’s like stepping out on a tightrope and balancing the public need against private property rights.
It has an obligation to do what is in the best interest of the larger public while not abusing the rights of any individual property owner.
The Tarrant Regional Water District, in its attempt to secure future water supplies for the growing North Central Texas region, has been walking that high wire during the past few years in developing a $2.3 billion pipeline from East Texas to Dallas-Fort Worth.
To make that project work, the TRWD has had to condemn property of those who would not voluntarily sell, using the eminent domain process and upsetting some ranchers who don’t want a pipeline on their land.
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After failed attempts for more than two years to reach a deal with Dallas hotelier Monty Bennett, the TRWD board voted this week to acquire by eminent domain 11.6 acres that run through his land in Henderson County.
That decision was complicated by the fact that Bennett, in addition to being a harsh critic of the TRWD, politicized the process by helping fund a slate of candidates to run for positions on the board.
One of those candidates, Mary Kelleher, was elected and was the only board member to vote against condemnation. She said she didn’t trust the district’s general manager and she thought there were alternatives to taking the land.
The pipeline project, being built in partnership with Dallas Water Utilities at a savings of more than $500 million, has been thoroughly vetted and should not incur any more delays if its first phase is to be completed by the 2018 target date.
To halt this development or cause a significant rerouting of the pipeline would not be in the best interest of the public.
The key is to make sure all property owners are given “just compensation” as guaranteed by the U.S. and Texas constitutions. And if any property owners feel the compensation offered is inadequate, they have access to the courts, an avenue Bennett has already proven he’s willing to take against the TRWD.