It took rancher John King and his family six years to win an eminent domain lawsuit against Tri-State Electric Cooperative. But the victory cost King and his family dearly — well over $100,000 in attorneys fees and court costs, he said.
King appeared before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday to support changes to the eminent domain laws to protect other people from what happened to his family.
Tri-State wanted to build a major electric power line across two parcels of King’s land near Raton to power the operations of a private company, and the family said no. “It’s an eyesore, and it reduces the value of your property probably 30 to 40 percent,” King said.
A state District Court jury awarded the Kings five times what Tri-State had offered for an easement in condemnation proceedings. By the time King paid litigation costs, he had used up all the award plus another $100,000, he said. “We feel like, just in this case, it is wrong for any entity to take property,” King said.
The House Judiciary Committee passed one eminent domain bill Wednesday and tabled four others.
The committee approved House Bill 393 authored by Rep. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe. It follows recommendations from Gov. Bill Richardson’s eminent domain task force, which the governor formed last year to address a U.S. Supreme Court decision involving a case in which a Connecticut town condemned homes and turned the property over to a private company for an economic development project.
Wirth’s bill repeals the use of eminent domain by governments for economic development projects and repeals two other older eminent domain laws. Governments can still condemn property for public uses and to protect public health, safety and welfare.
The committee also approved an amendment allowing municipalities to condemn property incorrectly platted prior to 1975 that’s been vacant and poses health and safety concerns.
The committee tabled Wirth’s other bill, HB 557, which would mandate how courts should award legal costs to a property owner who prevails in a condemnation proceeding. The bill could be revived Friday, but the status of three others that were tabled remained unclear.
Utility representatives opposed the bill, calling it “a dangerous tool” that would lead to more litigation and cost rate payers money. Utility companies have the right to condemn property for a utility line easement under state law.
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