Tree vs. Goliath
A rancher's fight to save his land
VICTORIA, Texas — A giant, lush, live gray oak tree has been growing in Victoria County near Nursery at the Kyle Family Ranch since before Texas was established as a state, but it may have only a few days left to live.
“I don’t even want to come down here… I don’t even want to come down here anymore,” Land Owner Jeff Kyle said. “I mean I know it’s coming. It could be tomorrow. The guy said between a week and two weeks it could be down, and it don’t take long.”
The 200+ year old tree has a circumference of 11 feet and 7 inches, and is estimated to be worth $22,000. Owner of Texas Champion Liveoaks Kenneth Henneke came out to appraise the tree.
“This tree is very unique,” said Henneke in a report. “It is situated where there is very good drainage due to the gravel formation that has allowed very good hydration to its root system. As a result the tree is very healthy and magnificent. It is truly one of the finest examples of live oaks in the area. It existed before Texas became a state and it is a shame it will be destroyed.”
The Kyle family has owned this land since the 1870’s but back in the 1940’s gas and oil companies began pressuring the family to use pieces of it in order to build pipelines. Most recently, the Gray Oak Pipeline.
“It was pretty much here’s the deal, take it or leave it,” Land Owner Bill Kyle said. “You know we had a certain amount of time to say yay or nay. Well we didn’t respond back and next thing you know we’re getting condemned, our property is condemned and we’re being sued and then the paper flow really started. They like killing trees, I’ll just say that.”
And, this family isn’t alone. It’s all legal with the current eminent domain laws.
“There is not a day that I travel in the district that I don’t hear from some land owner talking to me about eminent domain.” – Sen. Lois Kolkhorst
Eminent domain refers to the power of the government to take private property and convert it into public use. The government may only exercise this power if they provide just compensation to the property owners.
“The land owner who the thing they decide is going through your property, you get the one-time payment,” Bill said. “Everybody for the life of this pipeline gets payed except for the poor land owner. With eminent domain and the way that’s all set up, the land owners rights just get thrown out the window.”
Several Texas Lawmakers are working to change these laws to give more power to land owners, and create stricter regulations for oil companies.
“Senate Bill 421 is an eminent domain reform bill,” Texas State Senator Lois Kolkhorst said. “This session I’m working with Representative Burns and other House members to make sure we got some eminent domain reform. There is not a day that I travel in the district or am back in the district that I don’t hear from some land owner talking to me about eminent domain.”
Senator Lois Kolkhorst along with Texas Senator Dawn Buckingham, Texas Senator Bob Hall and Texas Senator Charles Perry authored Senate Bill 421.
This bill is designed to give some protections back to the land owner. It will give land owners an upfront bonafide offer that’s tied to an appraised value, as well as a bonus up front. It also sets parameters for what’s expected of the oil company while they are on the land, like making sure the gate is closed. Finally, it will require the pipeline companies to have county meetings where land owners can get together to see the route of the pipeline and discuss what they should expect during negotiations.
Senator Buckingham also authored Senate Bill 2276.
“[This Bill] would require the Railroad Commission to issue a permit authorizing the route of a pipeline,” said Senator Buckingham. “Before granting this permit, the Railroad Commission would be required to determine that the route of the pipeline is reasonable and that it moderates the negative effects on affected communities and landowners after consideration of all relevant factors, including community values, recreational and park areas, historical and aesthetic values, and environmental integrity.”
The Pipeline will stretch more than 850 miles when complete
Construction for the Gray Oak Pipeline is led by Phillips 66 and will stretch more than 850 miles from the Permian Basin and Eagle Ford to the Gulf Coast when completed.
The Gray Oak Pipeline website claims “the route was carefully chosen to minimize the impact on the environment,” and “the pipeline will create more than 3,000 construction jobs and 30 full-time jobs contributing to economic activity,” and “the pipeline will provide long-term economic benefits,” but the person whose land the pipeline runs through receives none of the long-term profit.
“You get that one time payment but that thing is flowing revenue for the whole time it’s in the ground,” said Bill. “I looked up what it was supposed to flow online and it’s gonna probably make about $35 million dollars a day. We didn’t necessarily want a pipeline coming through the property. We’ve got two here already now this is the third one, and we just, you know didn’t want it, but it’s here anyway.”
Gray Oak Pipeline is using a 50-foot stretch of land called a long term easement to build the pipeline on. The tree sits just at the edge of that easement.
“The center line, which is where the pipeline will actually go, is out on the outer edge of the tree,” said Bill. “We proposed to give the tree a nice haircut and have them just come on through and put the line [over] there, but they responded back with more excuses about why the tree had to go.”
Bill said one of those excuses is that the company needs the extra space to bring in the boring and construction equipment.
Newscenter 25 reached out to a Phillips 66 Media Spokesperson for comment, but did not receive any by the time of this publication.
“When is it going to stop?” – Bill Kyle, Land Owner
There’s one main question the Kyle family has been asking for years:
“You know, when is it going to stop?” Bill said. “There’s other oak trees back this way on this hill as well. When’s the next pipeline going to come in and just decide they are gonna destroy?”
“We found out that we can’t even salvage any of the old wood out of this tree,” Bill said. “They are just going to basically knock it over and mulch it with some big machine that comes in and will turn it all into basically ground up mulch. Almost 200 years of a life of a tree will be gone in about an hour and a half. I’m hope I’m not around that day. I hope I’m someplace else doing something else and not here to witness that.”
Road boring has already begun and trees are being cleared, so any day could be this giant oak trees last.
“It’s been through droughts and floods and major hurricanes like Hurricane Carla back in the 1960’s and most recently Harvey. Very little damage to it where a lot of trees, bigger trees and smaller trees were basically wiped out during the last storm. It’s a shame we’re going to have lose it to this pipeline.”
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