Check this out, a follow-up to our earlier post about the Texas Supreme Court opinion in which the property owner pushed back against a taking of a part of his ranch by a water district by forming his own water district, thus creating a situation where one governmental entity was trying to take another governmental entity's property by eminent domain. And you know what that means: a "superior public use" issue. Created from whole cloth. As we wrote, "bravo, Sir!"
The Texas Supreme Court held that in these cases, the trial court needs to first resolve the immunity issue, before it gets to valuation. An entirely sensible approach, in our outside-looking-in perspective.
Read more about that case and the property owner in this article from D Magazine, the city mag of (you guessed it) Dallas-Fort Worth: "A Gentleman Rancher’s Guide to Fighting Tarrant Regional Water District." Like the Supreme Court opinion, the best part of this article is how the owner got to thinking about forming his own water district:
Bennett doesn’t think the pipeline will bring the promised benefit to people in Tarrant County, but it’s the line’s route, not its efficacy, that bothers him most. “It comes through the prettiest part of my ranch,” he says, right between the front gate and the house. The pipeline crews clear-cut trees and maintain a service road along the line’s path. “They had a formula for choosing the route,” Bennett says. Factors such as the cost of the land and the convenience of staging for construction were weighed. “But none of the components involved people. I asked, ‘Why are people and their livings not part of the equation?’ I understand that it can’t be 100 percent, but I believe it should be a factor.”. . . .
With that same focus, he schooled himself on the Tarrant Regional Water District and the agency’s eminent domain powers and, eventually, the intricacies of sovereign immunity—how governmental bodies are immune to certain problems faced by individuals. Problems like getting their land rights taken by another governmental body.
Less than a year after his first contact with the water district, Bennett got a local legislator (whose campaign he had supported) to sponsor a bill creating the Lazy W Conservation District, a governmental agency with standing equal to that of the TRWD, in terms of taking land for right of way. It meant that the water district couldn’t condemn his land. When an influential legislator friendly to the TRWD got that agency’s designation changed to one that gave it more power, Bennett got the Lazy W’s designation changed, too, making it again the equal of the TRWD. That standoff still has to be settled by the courts.
But Bennett isn’t just relying on his sovereign immunity strategy. There’s also the graveyard. He and his wife and his mom have always talked about being buried at the ranch. So in 2014, he dedicated a cemetery at the Lazy W. Right now there are just two graves. One is that of a friend’s relative, a World War II veteran whose body had been cremated. The remains were sitting in a shoebox in a closet until he provided a place for burial. The other was an acquaintance; the family didn’t have money for a cemetery plot, Bennett says.
Well worth your time reading, and a testament to creative thinking.