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Landowners Who Resist the Vista Ridge Pipeline Could Face Eminent Domain Battle


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Curtis Yurk lives on a 156-acre property just north of Lexington, Texas, in Lee County — smack dab in the path of the planned Vista Ridge pipeline.

He says he doesn't hear a lot of news because of his rural location.

However, when informed that San Antonio Water System CEO Robert Puente told City leaders Wednesday that eminent domain would be used to take property from landowners who didn't want to sell, he'd already heard that news.

"[They] gave a proposal of what they were going to pay and the thing went bankrupt and I haven't heard from them since," Yurk said over the phone. "The first thing they put in the first letter they sent was eminent domain."

Puente's comment followed questioning from City Councilman Ron Nirenberg, who wanted clarification on what Puente meant when he said the closing on all the land needed for the pipeline would be "substantially" complete by June 2017.

Puente explained that SAWS expected a few landowners to hold out on selling for reasons such as being attached to property that was passed down from generation to generation. That's not why Yurk doesn't want to sell.

"I'll tell you what, when Blue Water came though here and started pumping — my household is one with a private well — my well dropped 17 feet," Yurk said.

Blue Water, which already has a pipeline on Yurk's property, is a member of the Vista Ridge Consortium. It holds the pumping permits that will allow SAWS to pump from the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer. 

In 1989, Alcoa built an aluminum smelting facility in Rockdale, north of Lexington. Yurk's property is between those two towns. That facility shut down eight years ago. While it was in operation, Alcoa dug for coal to run its plant. Part of the process included drilling wells.

"I dropped from 25 feet down to 45 feet," Yurk said, demonstrating the most dramatic decrease in his well during Alcoa's operations. "If that doesn't prove a point, I don't know what does."

Yurk, simply put, doesn't want his well to dry up and he's worried about Vista Ridge's impact on his water supply.

"It ain't going to be in my lifetime, but they're going to pump us down to the point that we're going to be a desert down here," he said.

But he might not have a choice whether he can stop the Vista Ridge pipeline from crossing his property. 

"They're forcing you to do it. You don't have a choice," he said. "It's either take what they give you or they'll slap you with eminent domain and you won't get very much at all."

However, he will probably try to avoid being slapped with an eminent domain suit. He says no one has contacted him since that original offer, where eminent domain was mentioned as a reason to sell, eight months ago or so. He just wants someone to come out and talk to him.

"They need to come and make a proposal and speak to me and I don't know if they intend to do that or to slap me with eminent domain," he said. "If they do that, I don't know what to do. That's not the American way. What are you going to do? Who is going to be there to back you up?"

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