After TransCanada used eminent domain to seize her property, Julia Crawford sees the Texas Supreme Court as her last resort to save her land.
Since 2008 Julia Trigg Crawford has been fighting to keep her 650-acre farm in Direct, Texas, from being transformed into another portion of the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline. TransCanada says it needs the land in order to connect the Gulf Coast portion of the pipeline with the Nebraska to Oklahoma portion of the pipeline, as well as to pump tar sands to refineries in South Texas, and has dragged Crawford into a large legal battle.
Though Crawford’s troubles with TransCanada began in 2008, her battle intensified in August 2011, when the Canadian company reportedly offered her $7,000 for her property, which she declined. Instead of trying to renegotiate with Crawford or find an alternative route for the pipeline, as other pipeline companies had done before, TransCanada used the power of eminent domain to seize control of her property. Now Crawford is trying to raise funds in order to have her case heard in front of the Texas Supreme Court.
If and when Crawford’s case is heard in front of the Texas Supreme Court is not yet known, as Crawford filed her appeal in November 2013. If the court does agree to hear her case, it will be the first Keystone-related case heard by the court, and could set a legal precedent for when eminent domain can be used by foreign companies like TransCanada.
Although the use of eminent domain was created to allow government entities to take over the rights to a property if an owner refused to sell the land for public use, some private entities also have the ability to use this power. According to Texas laws enacted in 1917, eminent domain can be used to take land for public projects by a private company when a product made in Texas is transported from one part of the state to another.
Crawford says TransCanada didn’t have to prove it was serving the common good, or follow the statutes to declare its right to eminent domain. Instead, all the company had to do was check a box on a form saying the pipelines would be serving the greater good.
“It is absolutely unbelievable to me eminent domain abuse continues in Texas given the revelations made during our court case,” Crawford said. “TransCanada is a foreign corporation using weak eminent domain laws to take property for their own private gain from hard-working Texans. Eminent domain was never intended for this purpose.
“As a landowner and an American, I support energy independence, but I value our individual and constitutional freedoms more than anything else,” she added. “I’m continuing my stand for freedom from strangers on our land and freedom from my family’s land being taken from faceless, foreign corporations for their own private greed.”
Now Crawford is one of several Texas property owners waging a fierce battle against the company hoping to keep their homes and prevent companies from using eminent domain to advance their interests. And since the oil in this pipeline comes from Oklahoma to Texas — not the other way around — the use of eminent domain may not be lawful in this particular case.
Though the lower courts have ruled against Crawford, she has taken to the Internet to share her story and garner the emotional and financial support she needs to keep her legal battle against TransCanada going.
On her “Stand with Julia” website, Crawford pointed to a 2012 case in which the Texas Supreme Court sided with landowners who had lost their land in the name of eminent domain, saying that “private property is constitutionally protected, and a private enterprise cannot acquire condemnation power merely by checking boxes on a one-page form.”
“As shown by the Denbury case, the Texas Supreme Court has demonstrated great courage and willingness to overturn lower courts’ decisions to protect Texas citizens from abuse of eminent domain laws by private corporations,” Crawford said. “We will continue our fight because the Keystone XL pipeline is all risk and no reward for my family and those Texans like us.
In addition to the appeal, Crawford says she will ask legislators and fellow residents to hold public hearings on eminent domain and expose the risks these pipelines pose to those living along the routes. She also plans to push to change the laws that she says have left hundreds of Texans with no other recourse than to fight in court.
“Our case is emblematic of those American landowners whose constitutional assurances have been trampled, and we will continue to stand up for our rights,” Crawford said.