The Marring Tower of Eminent Domain Abuse

by Julia Morriss

My family has lived on our Texas ranch since 1879. It’s an amazing piece of land; you can look around you for miles and see nothing but plants, sky, and a couple racing deer. At least you could. Soon, we will stare out across our pastures and see large, ugly towers marring the landscape and disrupting the skyline.

Soon the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) will use the power of eminent domain to take a portion of our ranch to build a transmission line to bring wind power from the Texas Panhandle to Austin. My grandparents don’t want the hideous 160-foot towers crossing their land. They don’t want high tension wires that, LCRA warns, people with pacemakers should not park under. They don’t want to listen to the humming wires, audible up to half a mile away. But they don’t have a choice, since LCRA has the power to take their property without their consent.

Since my grandparents live in Texas, you’d think that the state would be reluctant to trample people’s property rights. Not so. Despite Texans strong affinity for private property, when it comes to public entities like LCRA, the law is lopsidedly anti-property owner. My grandparents cannot contest the need for the power line, whether transporting expensive, unreliable wind energy hundreds of miles is a “public use”, or whether LCRA should be building a transmission line at all given that there is a parallel line a few miles away, built by a private utility. My grandparents cannot contest LCRA’s refusal to indemnify them for the hazards of electric transmission, the failure to wash their trucks to prevent transporting noxious weeds on to their ranch, the failure to ground the metal gates on the ranch to prevent shocks, or any of the dozens of other ways LCRA acts as a bad co-owner of the property. All they can do is argue over the price LCRA will pay for the land it is forcibly taking. That’s wrong.

When private utilities want to build transmission lines, as Florida Power and Light (FPL) has just a few miles from my grandparent’s ranch, they negotiate with landowners. FPL used the more attractive monopoles, instead of the unsightly towers, because it made landowners more willing to agree to sell an easement. FPL indemnified landowners for problems the lines caused, which LCRA is unwilling to do. And FPL made three to four times what LCRA has offered. Not surprisingly, landowners who sold to FPL feel quite differently about the FPL power line than do my grandparents and their neighbors about the LCRA line.

Even if wind energy made sense, LCRA’s abuse of Texas landowners would be a violation of rights. But given wind’s dismal economics and poor environmental record, the LCRA project is an astonishing abuse.  Not only is wind is unreliable – generally requiring backup natural gas plants – but wind turbines slaughter the bird population and the towers contribute to erosion problems.

Eminent domain abuse is a serious problem.  Allowing the government cut-priced access to property encourages abuse.  Eminent domain was intended for public uses. Taking property to move inefficient energy using a system with serious environmental concerns is not for the public good. This seizure is a threat to property rights, one that should be fought against at every step.


Julia Morriss is a student at American University.

One Comment

  1. Julie,

    I am trying to research a few things with a proposal of electric towers possibly using a route in Austin, Texas. This is along brushy creek road, also known as hairyman road.

    Can you give an update on what is going on?

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