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U.S. government faces land acquisition challenges

Eminent domain allows the government and other condemning entities the right to purchase private property for public use. Public-use projects must have some benefit to the general public, and can include roads, utilities, schools, pipelines, and more. Unfortunately for landowners, the eminent domain process compels a land sale to a taking authority familiar with the process and procedure, which can be to the detriment of the uninformed property owner. For Texas landowners who live along the border, it is necessary to understand what rights property owners have in the eminent domain process.

The process for taking private property

Because of its extensive border with Mexico, Texas faces the brunt of the wall-building initiative by the United States. Much of the land along the Texas-Mexico border is privately owned.

Fortunately, the government cannot merely seize the property of citizens without consent or compensation but, according to the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, must pay "just compensation" when taking land through eminent domain.

What amount of compensation is just?

For a landowner who does not wish to sell their property, it may seem that no amount of money is just compensation. Even so, the eminent domain process establishes a procedure to determine the value of the property being taken, which process can result in disproportionate value determinations among a group of property owners. Understanding and properly using the established procedure will enhance a property owner's chance of being paid just compensation for the taking of their property.

For example, in the Rio Grande Valley, one landowner accepted $13,500 per acre for 23 acres of land, while another accepted $6,400 per acre for six acres of similarly situated land. Those who accept the first offer from a condemning entity are likely to receive less compensation than those who negotiate.

What options do those facing eminent domain have?

It is wise for landowners to thoroughly consider the options available to them. Consulting an attorney will assist property owners in understanding their rights and obtaining just compensation contemplated by the eminent domain procedure.

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