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Landowners Fret Over Proposed Military Base in Eagle Ford

Landowners in the Eagle Ford shale play are worried that plans by the Texas Army National Guard to build a new training center will keep them from their mineral rights.

The U.S. Army announced Dec. 23 that it plans to purchase 22,232 acres of privately owned land in McMullen County for the South Texas Training Center, which would host and provide realistic training conditions for three National Guard battalions stationed in south Texas. The Army also said it would prepare a programmatic environmental impact statement over the proposed base.

According to the Army, construction of the base would take place in stages and take 15-20 years to complete. It would be located adjacent to the Dixie Range, which is owned by the U.S. Navy.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX), whose district includes McMullen County, supports the base and voted on a Department of Defense bill securing $5 million in federal funding for the project on May 28, 2010. He said the base would allow the Texas National Guard to "train and strengthen their readiness right here in our own community. This will be a great benefit to the state and especially to South Texas."

But landowners and county officials are opposed to the base.

"McMullen County is a very independent part of the state of Texas," George "Mitch" West -- who specializes in ranch land sales for San Antonio, TX-based Phyllis Browning Co. -- told NGI's Shale Daily on Friday. "It's like another country. There are fairly large land owners down there, and in many cases they struggled for years to make a living in the cattle business and in agriculture. The opportunities in the Eagle Ford have already changed a lot of lives for the better economically, and this base would be right in the heart of the Eagle Ford."

West said oil and gas companies have been signing leases with landowners in the Eagle Ford for up to $10,000 an acre.

"I don't know how you can put a value on what that land is worth because of the oil and gas reserves underneath it," West said. "I know they have horizontal drilling, but I don't know that you can run laterals far enough to really produce that land if the Army does take it. But you can imagine the landowners in McMullen County are pretty upset about it because they feel that it's a real infringement upon their rights and it compromises some really great oil and gas country."

On March 14 the McMullen County Commissioners Court unanimously passed a resolution opposing the National Guard's plans, arguing that it would, among other things, have a negative effect on environmental and cultural resources.

"The rights of private ownership of property is a basic principle of our society, and it would be especially inappropriate to remove this property from private ownership by condemnation through the use of the power of eminent domain," the county said.

West said he was unaware if the Army would use eminent domain to seize the land for the base.

"The government is pretty predatory in these types of situations," he said. "If they want something, they'll take it."

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