The Panhandle and the surrounding region are in a place where many public projects from across the country intersect. From oil and gas pipelines to power lines, residents see these types of projects across the area. Property owners may be familiar with these projects and the process of the government – or a company acting on behalf of the government – only if their property is targeted for one of these takings. This process is known as condemnation and is often referred to as eminent domain. If your property has been targeted for one of these projects, it can feel daunting to figure out your rights and what you can fight for in the process. Depending on the structures proposed by the company, it could also potentially damage your property value, business operations, and overall enjoyment. At Lovell, Lovell, Isern & Farabough, LLP, we have a dedicated team that works with clients to navigate the condemnation process. We will fight for you every step of the way.
The first step in these proceedings is a government entity or private company, also known as the condemning authority or Condemnor in these proceedings, will decide on the placement of a project. Depending on the project, the Condemnor might propose several options. They will then notify the landowners of these options and provide a period for discussion for those involved to present arguments for or against a certain plan. This period can be very brief, so as soon as you are notified you should consult with a lawyer to discuss your options for trying to keep the structure off your property. For example, in terms of wind turbines, under specific statutes created to address transmission lines for the Competitive Renewable Energy Zones (CREZ), route selection occurs by law over a matter of only 181 days.
During this time, a lawyer can gather evidence as to why your property may not be a fit, such as engineering, environmental, historical, cultural, or other reasons that could persuade the Condemnor to choose a different path. Depending on the type of project, it may make sense to band together with neighbors to present a united front and evidence for a large region. This can either be done informally or by creating a political group to lobby for or against a certain route or location.
If the public is allowed to weigh in on certain options, there will be a formal hearing to ultimately declare the location. This hearing is similar to a trial, and lawyers can present evidence to argue for or against a certain path. Once a decision is reached, the Condemnor begins the formal condemnation process by surveying the land and giving property owners offers for their property. The condemning authority is essentially buying the land from the owner, and it is required to offer a fair and reasonable offer for your land. While the Condemnor often claims to be offering a fair market value for the land, it is also always looking to save money and will generally not provide an adequate first offer. Many people do not realize they can negotiate the compensation they will receive. At Lovell, Lovell, Isern & Farabough, LLP, we have aggressively fought for our clients to receive favorable financial compensation for government takings. We help clients value their land, as well as look at how projects may diminish property value and use, to ultimately determine a price that more completely repays our clients. Besides just price, these agreements also will determine how the company will maintain the structure and how they will keep from harming your remaining property.
If an agreement cannot be reached during this process, a condemnation lawsuit will begin. This means the Condemnor will take you to court in the county in which you reside to have the courts decide upon the terms of an agreement to take your land. Typically, the first part of this process begins when a judge appoints three people as Special Commissioners to determine the compensation owed to the property owner. These commissioners are tasked with considering evidence from all parties involved and deciding on an amount the landowner should be paid. Their decision is not necessarily binding, but the goal is to find an answer that is fair to all parties involved. If either party disagrees with a decision, then the second part of the condemnation process will begin, which is a formal trial in which a jury will make a binding decision to which all parties must abide. In some cases, it is possible to bring an appeal.
Landowners may decide not to participate in the first hearing with the commissioners, mostly because the Condemnor could use any evidence they present in the trial phase. It should be noted as well that commissioners are paid for their work by the condemning authority, so although they are supposed to be impartial, it is often believed they are biased against landowners.
At Lovell, Lovell, Isern & Farabough, LLP, we are very familiar with the entire condemnation process from location selection through appeals. Our team fights for the rights of landowners and do what we can to keep the property in our local communities as valuable as possible. If you are fighting a condemnation, contact us today to discuss your rights and options.