Texas Agriculture March 17, 2017 : Page 6

Fighting eminent GRPDLQLQWKHÀHOG&#0f; OHJLVODWXUH demn me if I didn’t take it,” Hoelscher said. “I did offer them a counter-offer, which was ridiculously low at the time, and they rejected me.” The city then served Hoelscher with condemnation papers. After the previous city attorney resigned and another stepped in, the negotiation process broke down be-tween Hoelscher and the city. “Everybody started finding out things about the city not getting hy-drological studies on flooding and the safety issues for downriver resi-dents,” Hoelscher said. “One day I got a call and the city had abandoned it completely because they told us that it wasn’t going to help anyway.” Despite the abandonment of the project, Hoelscher’s battle with emi-nent domain wasn’t over. “In the process, they [the city of San Angelo] started the Red Arroyo Project,” Hoelscher said. “They were going to build a 115-acre lake [on my land] to hold roughly 5,000 acre-feet of water. They basically got all their appraisals, put everything in and made me an offer. We rejected it. It was extremely low.” The project would affect the ma-jority of Hoelscher’s farmland and would make it difficult to do anything with the remaining property. Hoelscher and his lawyer were eventually able to work with the city and their lawyer on the lake project. He accepted a three-year hold option, and the city has paused eminent do-main claims on the land. “Basically, we have one more year to be hanging in limbo,” Hoelscher said. Right now, everything is quiet in terms of the lake project, and the Av-enue P Project remains abandoned. But Hoelscher said the abandonment of the project doesn’t really feel like a win. “It still cost me out-of-pocket,” Hoelscher said. “If I wouldn’t have lawyered up, taken their feet and put them to the fire, they would have completely run over me.” For other landowners dealing with eminent domain issues, Hoelscher recommends a good lawyer to help navigate the process. This is unfor-tunate due to the way state laws are written. “Dealing with municipalities who have very, very good lawyers, I will By Jessica Domel Multimedia Editor After years of stress and thou-sands of dollars in legal fees, San An-gelo-area farmer Steve Hoelscher has at least one thing to show for his fight against eminent domain—retaining the land he’s owned for decades. Hoelscher, a fifth generation farmer, has been involved in two le-gal battles for riverfront property in San Angelo where he rotates between cover crops, melons, cotton, corn and wheat. In the first legal battle, Hoelscher got a call late one night from a con-tractor that the city of San Angelo wanted to eliminate an existing hold-ing lake and change the direction water drains from Avenue P, which is several blocks from Hoelscher’s land. The diversion would cause water to drain through Hoelscher’s property and into a river. “Instead of making it go through the normal channels into an [exist-ing] 120-to 140-acre holding lake, which would let the water drain out slowly, they wanted to divert up to 700 cubic feet per second [through my land],” Hoelscher said. “That’s a lot of water. That’s 750 acre-feet a day, roughly. That would cover this farm by six to eight inches.” According to Hoelscher, the city never approached him directly about the project, but he was listed in the paper as a holdout. Hoelscher and his lawyer approached the city and ex-plained how the project would dam-age his crops and that compensation was needed for the taking. “We finally got together, and they offered me a very small amount,” Hoelscher said. “They did appraisals. I don’t even know how they came up with such a low amount on the ap-praisals, but they did. We declined to take their appraisals.” The city eventually offered Hoel-scher a bit more for the property. “They said they were going to con-M ARCH 17 , 2017 The Red Arroyo runs through this property owned by Steve Hoelscher that the city tried to comdemn for use via eminent domain proceedings. 6

Fighting Eminent Domain in the Field, Legislature

Jessica Domel

After years of stress and thousands of dollars in legal fees, San Angelo-area farmer Steve Hoelscher has at least one thing to show for his fight against eminent domain—retaining the land he’s owned for decades.

Hoelscher, a fifth generation farmer, has been involved in two legal battles for riverfront property in San Angelo where he rotates between cover crops, melons, cotton, corn and wheat.

In the first legal battle, Hoelscher got a call late one night from a contractor that the city of San Angelo wanted to eliminate an existing holding lake and change the direction water drains from Avenue P, which is several blocks from Hoelscher’s land. The diversion would cause water to drain through Hoelscher’s property and into a river.

“Instead of making it go through the normal channels into an [existing] 120-to 140-acre holding lake, which would let the water drain out slowly, they wanted to divert up to 700 cubic feet per second [through my land],” Hoelscher said. “That’s a lot of water. That’s 750 acre-feet a day, roughly. That would cover this farm by six to eight inches.”

According to Hoelscher, the city never approached him directly about the project, but he was listed in the paper as a holdout. Hoelscher and his lawyer approached the city and explained how the project would damage his crops and that compensation was needed for the taking.

“We finally got together, and they offered me a very small amount,” Hoelscher said. “They did appraisals. I don’t even know how they came up with such a low amount on the appraisals, but they did. We declined to take their appraisals.”

The city eventually offered Hoelscher a bit more for the property.

“They said they were going to condemn me if I didn’t take it,” Hoelscher said. “I did offer them a counter-offer, which was ridiculously low at the time, and they rejected me.”

The city then served Hoelscher with condemnation papers.

After the previous city attorney resigned and another stepped in, the negotiation process broke down between Hoelscher and the city.

“Everybody started finding out things about the city not getting hydrological studies on flooding and the safety issues for downriver residents,” Hoelscher said. “One day I got a call and the city had abandoned it completely because they told us that it wasn’t going to help anyway.”

Despite the abandonment of the project, Hoelscher’s battle with eminent domain wasn’t over.

“In the process, they [the city of San Angelo] started the Red Arroyo Project,” Hoelscher said. “They were going to build a 115-acre lake [on my land] to hold roughly 5,000 acre-feet of water. They basically got all their appraisals, put everything in and made me an offer. We rejected it. It was extremely low.”

The project would affect the majority of Hoelscher’s farmland and would make it difficult to do anything with the remaining property.

Hoelscher and his lawyer were eventually able to work with the city and their lawyer on the lake project. He accepted a three-year hold option, and the city has paused eminent domain claims on the land.

“Basically, we have one more year to be hanging in limbo,” Hoelscher said.

Right now, everything is quiet in terms of the lake project, and the Avenue P Project remains abandoned. But Hoelscher said the abandonment of the project doesn’t really feel like a win.

“It still cost me out-of-pocket,” Hoelscher said. “If I wouldn’t have lawyered up, taken their feet and put them to the fire, they would have completely run over me.”

For other landowners dealing with eminent domain issues, Hoelscher recommends a good lawyer to help navigate the process. This is unfortunate due to the way state laws are written.

“Dealing with municipalities who have very, very good lawyers, I will say that anybody who is going to deal with somebody who has good lawyers, you better lawyer up just for your own protection,” Hoelscher said. “Don’t do it alone. I’ve tried on several occasions, and I can’t say I’ve been burned, but the outcome has been probably not as good as I would have liked it to be.”

During Texas Farm Bureau’s (TFB) Leadership Conference in January, Hoelscher talked to legislators in Austin about reforming eminent domain laws to ensure landowners receive a fair, or bona fide, offer for the land.

“Our message has to get out,” Hoelscher said. “That’s where it’s going to make the biggest impact, the legislature.”

One of TFB’s priorities this session is eminent domain reform and ensuring property owners’ rights are protected through legislation that may help landowners like Hoelscher receive reimbursement for their legal fees and provide fair, upfront offers.

Updates on potential eminent domain legislation are available throughout the session via TFB’s Austin Newsletter , which is available online at: http://texasfarmbureau.org/advocacy/austin-newsletter/.

Read the full article at http://texasagriculture.texasfarmbureau.org/article/Fighting+Eminent+Domain+in+the+Field%2C+Legislature/2736934/392072/article.html.

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