South Texas farmer fights eminent domain for land: Texas Agriculture (The Texas Farm Bureau), 3/3/06

From dreams to dumps

By Bobby Horecka

When Brian Adamek bought a couple hundred acres of rich black land soil from his father two years ago, he says he was planning for his future and the future of his wife and 3-month-old son.

But his dreams may be dashed if the city [of Victoria TX] follows through with its plan to expand a nearby landfill by using its power to condemn his property for what city officials consider the greatest public good.

At issue are some 208 acres of turned topsoil just south of Victoria. Adamek says he plans to plant it with cotton this spring, a sizable portion of the total 850 acres he presently farms in the area.

The City of Victoria, however, says the land would be better suited for the planned landfill expansion. In addition to its location adjacent to the current landfill — which serves the garbage disposal needs for several counties in the region — Adamek's property is also one of the few immediately neighboring sites to be free of creeks and drainage concerns, making it a prime locale for such a venture to operate within state and federal environmental regulations.

City officials approached Adamek about his property a year and a half ago, offering $630 an acre for land he said he bought for $730 an acre from his father just a few months prior. Failure to accept that offer, Adamek said he was told, could mean he could get absolutely nothing for it should the city move forward with the authority enabled to them under the powers of eminent domain.

Adamek shared his plight on a recent Friday afternoon inside the warmth of his barn, where he worked to ready his planting equipment for the coming season. Outside, a brisk north wind carried the promise of some much needed but ill-timed moisture.

"Where are my rights?" he said, bearing down on the red shop cloth as he worked the morning's greasy toil from his palms.

"They're talking about more than a fourth of my operation," he said. "I'll be losing my income. That's excellent black land, and good land is hard to come by around here. It's definitely worth a lot more to me than that."

Still, Adamek said, losing the land wouldn't be half as bitter if the city were willing to offer a fair price.

When the city bought the initial property to start the landfill back in the 1980s, the property sold for $2,000 an acre. A 200-acre tract of farmland closer to town sold for $5,000 an acre just two years ago for what the city said would be an industrial park, land which remains vacant today. Adamek said the city even upped the ante to $10,000 an acre to buy out the same landowner's remaining 100 acres to ensure expansion area in the same scant industrial park.

Considering the landfill expansion could earn the city as much as $600,000 more each year once it is completed, Adamek said he was certain his property should be worth an incredible amount more than anything the city had thus far offered.

Even the going rate for most agricultural land around the area is more than the city offered him, Adamek said. He estimated the price at about $700-$900 an acre, on average.

His neighbor John Smajstrla, who met with Adamek earlier that day to help him prep his machinery, agreed.

"They're offering a low ag value on the property when there's no secret what they intend to use it for," Smajstrla said. "They should be dealing with numbers that are fair market value for the property's highest and best use, but that's a far cry from anything I've heard so far."

Adding insult to injury, city officials claim it is not them, but Adamek who has stalled the negotiation process.

"We can't get them to the table to discuss it on a rational basis," city attorney David Smith told the local newspaper. "We will be fair with these people, but they're giving us absolutely nothing to go on."

Meanwhile, the Victoria City Council authorized their attorney to proceed with the condemnation process if they can't come to an agreement.

To defend his land, Adamek will have to go before a county court-appointed tribunal of three people from the community knowledgeable about local market values. Based on those rulings, each side of the issue then has the right to appeal, and if necessary, further challenge the dispute before judge and jury, leaving Adamek to foot the bill for legal costs and property appraisal fees to protect his stake.

"I don't know what I'm going to do," the 31-year-old farmer said as he gazed across the neatly laid rows at the skeletal equipment snaking down the mammoth mounds of landfill bordering his property.

"I don't want to sell my land, but I don't want it condemned either," he said. "This land has been in my family for more than 30 years, and I need my land to support my wife and young son. But I'm just a young guy, so I guess they think they can just run all over me.

"It just doesn't seem right."

Texas Agriculture: www.txfb.org/TexasAgriculture