Eminent Domain: “The process goes so fast it will make your head spin."
January 27, 2008
By Hunter Sauls
WEST COLUMBIA — When private property gets in the way of a road project, its owners will be moving out of the way, one way or another, in almost every case.
With a widening of Highway 36 on the horizon and state and federal officials ready to drive the Trans-Texas Corridor through the Lone Star State, many land-owning Texans are preparing to defend their property from their own government.
Brazoria County residents troubled by the looming eminent domain fights came to the Gulf Coast Christian Center on Saturday morning to voice their views to Tom Lizardo, chief of staff for Congressman Ron Paul R-Lake Jackson. Property rights attorney David Showalter also was there to tell them what to expect if state transportation surveyors start sizing up their land.
“It is very difficult to stop or limit these projects once they have started,” Showalter said. “The process goes so fast it will make your head spin. You could be on land you’ve farmed for three generations, and then be forced off the land in 90 days.”
Though the Trans-Texas Corridor has passed the state Legislature with Gov. Rick Perry’s signature, Paul has his Washington staff putting together a bill that would derail the plan if passed, Lizardo said.
“If federal funds don’t go to these projects then they don’t happen,” Lizardo said. “If we can cut off the stream of money, then it would at least slow, if not end, the use of eminent domain for road projects.”
Paul’s legislation would pull federal funds from any road project in which eminent domain is used, he said. It also would pull funds from any prospective toll roads.
Lizardo said he believes this legislation will be popular with Texas voters because he’s never met a person in favor of the Trans-Texas Corridor, which he called the “NAFTA Superhighway.”
The Trans-Texas Corridor is a planned 4,000-mile network of tollways, railroads and utility lines to criss-cross the state. It is planned to be completed in phases over the next 50 years.
Though Paul is an ardent supporter of the independence of states from federal interference, Lizardo said eminent domain makes this issue about taxation, not state’s rights.
“Eminent domain is used for a specific purpose,” Lizardo said. “What we’ve got here is a strange situation where your money is taken and sent to Washington, then it’s sent back to a state so they can use it to take your property from you,” Lizardo said.
Clad in leather and denim, West Columbia resident Mike Marshall said he expects the Texas Department of Transportation to use eminent domain to get some of his land along Highway 36.
“They’ve been out surveying it for a good while now,” Marshall said with quiet anger. “They’re doing that and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife people are buying up all the land I use for hunting. They buy it all with our tax money and then take it off the tax rolls.”
Patricia Weeks of Columbia Lakes said she believes eminent domain should be used sparingly, but wildlife refuges are necessary to protect native birds.
“Brazoria County has the best flyways in the state and the refuges are a great way to keep those areas protected,” said Marshall, who is a master naturalist.
Marshall said eminent domain isn’t necessary, and is used by people “wearing suits and sipping coffee” in Washington and Austin who don’t really understand the country and protecting nature.
The Texas Department of Transportation plans to add lanes to Highway 36 because it is a vital hurricane evacuation route and will be accommodating increased truck traffic from the expansion of Port Freeport.
Yellow brick road
The forum suddenly went down a different path.
Raising applause, one man from the back blurted, “If they like using eminent domain so much, why don’t they use it to build the border fence?”
Lizardo said the real reason is the majority of congressmen and the president don’t really want a fence along the U.S.-Mexican border to prevent illegal immigration. Instead, they stall and say the money isn’t there, he said.
“We have $1 billion in overseas military construction alone,” Lizardo said. “The argument that the money isn’t there doesn’t wash, I’m not going to lie to you.”
Brazoria resident Nancy Woodrow said she is despondent because she shouldn’t have to live in fear of her government.
“The old saying goes, ‘Money talks and you-know-what walks,’” Woodrow said. “I don’t think the older middle class can fight the government any more, and there’s not enough togetherness to stage a march or anything.”
Lizardo said the Constitution demands an alert and aware citizenry.
He invited his boss’ constituents to follow the model of representative democracy laid out in the country’s founding document.
“If you don’t communicate your concerns to us, then we can’t change anything,” Lizardo said.
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