A District Court ruling in Muskogee County is testing the rights of citizens to own property according to Harlan Hentges, Director of the Oklahoma Agricultural Legal Foundation.
Muskogee County commissioners asked the district judge earlier this year to approve the taking of private property for a private company’s water pipeline easement. In a ruling issued Aug. 29 the district judge concurred.
The Foundation is funding legal representation for the property owners.
"If this is allowed then any government entity can take anybody’s land for any purpose," Hentges said. "The taking of private property for private use is clearly unconstitutional."
Landowners near Keefeton are being forced to allow a private company’s water pipeline to cross their property. In the case of Jack and Doris Whitten, this pushes them into the position of giving up their long-sought retirement home.
"We’ve worked all our lives for this property and now it’s being taken away," the Whittens said. "We’re being forced to sell our land against our will."
A main contention of property owners is the fact their land is being taken for a private company, Energetix, and not for any public purpose.
"This pipeline will be uLegal sed entirely by Energetix without any public use," Hentges said. "Energetix has convinced the county commissioners this is in the public interest by offering to install a rural water district pipeline alongside their own pipeline."
Landowners are not opposed to economic development, increasing tax revenues or increasing jobs. However, they are concerned about their constitutional rights.
"This is a property rights issue, plain and simple," Jack Whitten said.
The Oklahoma Agricultural Legal Foundation is a non-profit group organized to support the legal rights of farmers, ranchers and other rural Oklahomans.