VAN BUREN CO., Ark. (KTHV) - In Van Buren County lies 200 acres of farmland just outside of Southside community. It has belonged to the Johnson family since at least 1929.
So when an electric company proposed constructing a transmission line on the land, Jack Johnson took a firm stance after trying to negotiate.
"I made it very clear to them that I intended to fight it," Johnson said.
From there, the eminent domain process began, which is when the federal government, state government, or corporations take private property for public use. The process also includes a justifiable compensation in return for taking the land.
In Johnson's case, the company would take 6 acres of his family's land to construct a transmission line from the existing Bee Branch substation to the new Damascus substation.
"It is scary, it is formidable, but I did put myself through the process," Johnson admitted.
He participated in the eminent domain proceedings in an effort to stop the company from obtaining a certification of need. After a two month court battle, the judge ruled in the company's favor, compensating for the portion of land.
But Johnson continues to question what he calls an "intimidating process."
"Is that due process," he asked. "I just think for anyone who is facing this issue that it should be easier, that way there's a more equitable outcome."
Attorney Trey Kitchens with the Brad Hendricks Law Firm admitted that eminent domain is a challenging process.
"I don't always think it's fair, I don't always think it's right," said Kitchens.
He said the process can become easier if you seek help from the professionals who understand the intricacies of eminent domain.
"You need to be proactive, you to be engaged in the process from the first time you get any kind of notification that eminent domain is even being considered," Kitchens said.
He continued, saying sometimes people don't realize that people gave the government the right to do this. He said that until property owners fight to change legislation in the state, the process will remain the same.
During the latest legislative session, State Representative Warwick Sabin (D-Little Rock) introduced House Bill 2086, which looked to protect the property rights of citizens from pipeline companies using eminent domain to take their land. That bill ultimately died in committee at the adjournment of the 91st General Assembly.
That leaves property owners with only a few options to fight for their land. Aside from the fighting the eminent domain judgment, property owners can also challenge whether they are fairly compensated for their land.
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