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KIMBLE COUNTY JURY AWARDS DAMAGES TO LANDOWNER IN PIPELINE CONDEMNATION TRIAL

by | Jul 8, 2021 | Blog

Kinder Morgan’s Permian Highway Pipeline created controversy as soon as it was announced in 2018. The 435 mile project stretching from the Permian Basis to the Houston area represented a $2.5 billion investment and adversely impacted thousands of properties along its route. The COVID pandemic delayed trials in over one hundred cases which are waiting for trial settings. The owner of an exotic game ranch in Kimble County was able to get to trial during the week of June 21, 2021 in the first of the Permian Highway Pipeline cases to go to trial in the Hill Country.

The PHP project is a 42” high pressure natural gas pipeline operating at a maximum pressure of 1440 pounds per square inch. Kinder Morgan condemned a permanent easement against the will of the impacted landowners to pursue this investment.  These landowners point out that the pipeline creates a risk of catastrophic explosions and injury which adversely impacts market perception of the value of properties. The permanent easement results in a loss of privacy and Landowners lose the full right to the use of their property. They also lose control of who may come on their property, gates are left open and aerial surveillance invades their privacy.

In the first jury trial to occur in Junction in over a year, a jury in Kimble County awarded damages to the landowner, not only for the value of the easement taken, but for damages to the remainder of the 258 acre ranch due to the presence of the pipeline. Kinder Morgan presented valuation testimony by a local appraiser Paul Bierschwale. Bierschwale, the former Chief Appraiser of Kimble County testified that his analysis proved there was no damage to the remainder in any of the approximately 366 appraisals his firm performed for Kinder Morgan on this and the related Crossover 2 pipeline projects.

Austin appraiser Monte Ezell testified on behalf of the landowner. Ezell, a recognized authority on pipeline condemnation cases, determined there was damage to the remainder. The jury soundly rejected Bierschwale’s “no damage to the remainder” conclusion and awarded the landowner seven (7) time the amount in Bierschwale’s appraisal. After being flooded with reams of analysis from Bierschwale, the landowner’s attorney reminded the jury during closing argument of Mark Twains’ observation about the reliability of statistics, “There are lies, damn lies, and statistics”.

Trial lawyers David Showalter and Lorretta Owen of the Richmond based Showalter Law Firm presented the case to the jury during three days of trial.