AG opinion sought on eminent domain power for Texas Central

This could be a big deal.

State Rep. Byron Cook asked Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Friday to rule on whether a private company developing a high-speed train project in the state has the power of eminent domain.

Texas Central Partners has been developing a privately funded bullet train intended to travel between Houston and Dallas  in less than 90 minutes. While the project has garnered strong support in those cities, residents in the largely rural communities along the proposed route have voiced opposition. Cook’s request asks Paxton to determine whether the company has the right, under state law, to enter private property to conduct land surveys “and ultimately take” private land.

“This issue is of great importance to Texans, especially rural Texans, whose property is already being entered upon in preparation for the initiation of eminent domain proceedings,” Cook, a Republican from Corsicana, wrote in his request. “The issue upon which I request an opinion in one of statutory interpretation and the rules that govern your response are straightforward.”

There are currently hundreds of private companies afforded eminent domain authority in Texas, including dozens of private railroad companies, according to a list maintained by the state Comptroller.

Railroad companies have eminent domain rights in Texas, and as of today that includes high-speed rail companies, though Sen. Lois Kolkhorst tried to pass a bill last session that would have ended that. It seems likely she or some other legislative opponent of Texas Central will try again next year, but in the meantime Rep. Cook has asserted in his request for an opinion that TCR doesn’t qualify as a railroad company, at least not as intended by the law as originally written. That feels like legal hair-splitting to me, but these things happen when 19th century legislation is applied to 21st century reality. As we know, AG opinions do not carry the force of law, but it would carry some weight in the litigation that would be sure to follow. Keep an eye on this.

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