Tuesday, September 04, 2007

"Eminent domain -- stealing what others work for."

Man's dislike of land seizure is hard to miss


Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2007

Billy Mitchell is waging a personal war against eminent domain.

Mitchell's message, "Eminent domain -- stealing what others work for," can be seen on a billboard along Interstate 30 in west Fort Worth. His name is on the bottom of the billboard.

"My voice mail is constantly full," he said. "I think people are really upset about this."

Mitchell said he spent $2,000 on the sign, which went up about two weeks ago. He leased the billboard for a month but said he is considering extending the lease.

The reason for his discontent?

He lost a fight to keep a natural gas pipeline off his 70-acre ranch near Aledo.

Empire Pipeline of Lebanon, Mo., which claimed eminent domain to build the pipeline, filed condemnation proceedings against Mitchell in 2005 for a 25-foot easement on his ranch. Empire officials did not respond to seven phone calls from the Star-Telegram seeking comment.

Government entities are also allowed to use eminent domain to seize property for public use, in exchange for payment at fair market value.

"The billboard is for the people who are losing their land in the name of public necessity because of projects such as the Trinity Uptown project and the Trans-Texas Corridor," Mitchell wrote in a statement to the Star-Telegram. "And the sign is for the people who lost their homes so the Dallas Cowboys and Texas Rangers could make more money. Maybe they will let those poor people who lost their homes sell peanuts at the games."

Mitchell, 49, said he received a 10-day notice for a required condemnation hearing in Parker County but chose not to attend.

"There was no way I could prepare that fast," he said. "I needed an appraisal and attorneys."

Later, he and his family tried to fight Empire, but he said it was too expensive. He settled for a $117,000 payment from Empire, but $100,000 went to attorney fees, he said.

"It is not fair that rich pipeline companies can steal from hardworking families in the name of eminent domain," Mitchell said. "My wife and my sister are schoolteachers. Texas schoolteachers do not make enough money to fight a high-powered gas company -- but we tried."

Elizabeth Campbell, 817-390-7696

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