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Texas high-speed rail project raises eminent domain issues

Major eminent domain disputes arise relatively frequently in Texas, and proposed projects ranging from bullet trains and border walls to continued oil and gas drilling serve as reminders of how important it is for landowners to protect their rights.

The proposed high-speed rail line from Houston to Dallas is a prime example of how a private company can seek to use the power of eminent domain.

Three private firms -- Texas Central Partners, Fluor Enterprises and Lane Construction Corp. -- plan to design and build the bullet train, which developers say will travel from Houston to Dallas in 90 minutes. So far the project is expected to involve $15 billion in private funding.

Legislators have already passed a law that prevents state funds from going to the project, and in 2015 lawmakers unsuccessfully tried to prohibit Texas Central from using the power of eminent domain. Now the firm plans to use that very power to acquire land for the project, although Texas Central's right to use eminent domain is bound to face legal challenges from local landowners.

Whether a land taking is really in the public interest is often the subject of eminent domain litigation.

Landowners along the proposed route say they have doubts about the economic benefits for the local communities, and there is the question of why a rural landowner's property should be taken to benefit major urban areas.

For its part, Texas Central says that four years of construction would generate 10,000 jobs, and 1,000 permanent employees would be hired by Texas Central itself.

Landowners need to be aware of their options for negotiating a fair settlement.

When the government or a private company seeks to use the power of eminent domain to take your land, the law requires that you be offered fair compensation. And that requires a fair appraisal of the property. To be sure, what is "fair" in these matters is often a point of contention. If you find yourself up against a government entity or a private entity, talk to an experienced eminent domain attorney about your options.

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