In Eagle Ford, local officials win rights on road control

AUSTIN — In a bitterly contested case of neighbor against neighbor over access to the spoils of the Eagle Ford Shale, a court ruling has strengthened the hand of county officials seeking to maintain control of local roads.

The ruling, issued last week by an appeals court in San Antonio, concerns a stretch of dirt road battered by oil industry trucks just off Highway 97 in La Salle County. The dispute was the subject of an article last year in the Chronicle.

It began when a ranch owner, Philip Hindes, granted exclusive access to an oil company drilling on his property, EOG Resources of Houston. The owner of a neighboring parcel, Thomas Townsend, filed a lawsuit seeking passage on the road, which he described as historically open to the public.

County commissioners, fearing erosion of their jurisdiction over hundreds of miles of roadway at the height off the oil boom, intervened in the dispute in 2013 by declaring a public interest in the road. But when Townsend sought to travel the road, Hindes obtained a temporary court order to block his vehicles.

Townsend returned to the county for an order to declare the road public under state law. Hindes contested the authority of county officials. The new appellate ruling upholds the county’s right to consider the request to open the road.

A lawyer for Hindes, Jaime Rangel, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A lawyer for the county commissioners, Chris Johns, described his clients as “very pleased.”

For officials across the major oil patches of the state, much of the pressure to contend with the negative consequences impact of the oil boom has already eased, at least for the time being, with the decline in prices. The number of petroleum rigs operating in the Eagle Ford has fallen from 203 a year ago to 97 last week, according to Baker Hughes.

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