Monday, October 30, 2006

TxDOT Condemnation Shortchanges Rancher

Jury: Rancher shortchanged for SH 130 land


by Jonathan Selden
Austin Business Journal
Copyright 2006

A Travis County jury ruled last week that the state underpaid an Austin cattle rancher almost $5 million when it condemned his land last year to make way for the new State Highway 130.

The jury awarded Austin rancher Sam Harrell almost $7 million last week in his fight against the Texas Department of Transportation for taking 174 acres of his 290-acre organic cattle ranch located about four miles north of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.

In July 2005, TxDOT offered Harrell's Harrell Ranch Ltd. about $2 million for the land. Harrell rejected the offer and the Travis County Special Commissioners' Panel then offered a little more -- $2.1 million.

But Harrell's lawyer, Kevin Maguire with the Dallas office of Strasburger & Price LLP, says Harrell's ranch is no ordinary piece of ground.

"It was a very unique property," he says.

In fact, its one of the few ranches in the country certified to raise prized Japanese Kobe beef, which dines on beer and enjoys massages. So Harrell appealed the panel's award to trial before a Travis County jury.

Strasburger says the verdict is the largest condemnation verdict in Travis County history -- and the largest in Texas since a Harris County verdict in October 2004.

Maguire says the ranch's remaining 116 acres are useless now with SH 130 cutting "right down the middle of it."

The state has 30 days to appeal the award, he says.

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