A Freer man nixed a sale of his property with CBP via a shooting range, but a significant domain to capitalize on nonetheless

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A Freer man accuses the federal government of potentially using significant domains to take his land for “pennies on the dollar” after negotiations to buy the land collapsed.

JA Cantu Ranch owner Jacob Cantu told the Laredo Morning Times the government may plan to force the sale of 30 acres of his land for around $67,500 after he refused to sell it to them for $750,000 for sale because they insisted on building an open spot – field gun range. He says this would not only affect his hunting business on the remaining parts of his land, but also pose a safety risk to his family.


“I worked very hard to acquire this property,” Cantu said. “I’ve saved my money for years and managed to buy this land and I feel like it’s just going to be ruined now.”

Eminent domain refers to the government’s power to take private property and turn it into public use. The Fifth Amendment provides that the government may only exercise this power when providing fair compensation to landowners.

Cantu claims the US Customs and Border Protection move will eventually create a helipad and open shooting range on its property, which is located in Duval County on the outskirts of Freer.

In addition to concern for the safety of his business and family, it would also devalue his country, he says.

According to Cantu, the ordeal began two years ago when he was contacted by a US Army Corps of Engineers representative who asked if he would be willing to sell his property to build a US Customs and Border Protection station.

Cantu said he would be interested in selling about 30 acres for $25,000 per acre, or $750,000. He said access to water makes it a prime commercial property, and he would consider selling it on the condition that the station didn’t include a shooting range.

After declaring his interest in selling, a Cantu inspection and site assessment access permit was issued and signed, allowing access for government officials.

The document said it was irrevocable for 24 months beginning June 4, 2020, and would grant government employees and contractors the right to enter the property – to notify Cantu prior to entry – to conduct environmental assessments and property surveys. This included the right to temporarily store, move and remove necessary equipment and supplies, survey, stake out, assess, drill and take soil and water samples.

“They weren’t talking about significant domains,” Cantu said. “And when I got the offer … it was like, ‘Oh, by the way, if you don’t take our offer, we’ll take your property for sentencing.'”

The US Army Corp of Engineers and CBP could not be reached for comment regarding this story.

The initial offer was dated April 19, 2021 and stated that it was a market-derived valuation.

“In accordance with federal law and implementing regulations, we have set that amount at $67,500. This amount is based on factors such as the location of the property, its highest value use and any improvements made to the property,” wrote a representative from the CBP Real Estate, Environmental and Leasing Management Office.

The April letter contains no language regarding eminent domain or condemnation. The first mention of Eminent Domain was in a letter sent in October.

On October 6, 2021, Cantu received a letter from CBP stating that the 30 acres had been identified as a necessary site for a successful operation “related to CBP’s construction of tactical infrastructure projects.” It said the government sent the letter as a final notice of an acceptable purchase after negotiations with the US Army Corps of Engineers stalled.

Cantu was given until Oct. 20 to respond and negotiate, or the matter would be referred to the Justice Department to file a conviction complaint — a formal act by the agency with preeminent domain authority to transfer property from a private owner to the convict to transfer party, according to Dawson and Sodd PLLLC – in federal court to acquire the ownership interests.

The letter came after Cantu emailed the US Army Corps that he was not interested in selling his property on June 3, 2021, a year after the ordeal began.

Cantu referenced a 2018 LMT report that said despite investing $33 million in upgrades to a CBP Freer station, he was only offered $67,500 for his country. The report said CBP’s plans for Freer include replacing the existing facility with a new 27,000-square-foot LEED-certified space.

The building would house 250 Border Patrol agents, parking for 120 vehicles and an impounded parking lot for 12 vehicles, a secure entrance, kennels, a fuel island, a car wash, a facility maintenance room, an SUV shed for 10 ATVs, and a vehicle maintenance facility. There was no mention of a shooting range or helipad.

Meanwhile, Cantu held talks between himself and the Army Corps representative, saying the representative is aware of the interest in selling it, which is dissipating after the lengthy process and lower asking price.

In the June 2021 correspondence, Cantu emails the Army Corps representative saying he is no longer interested in selling his property to the Border Patrol and requests a letter guaranteeing that that they would not go through with the sale. Cantu wrote that government officials were not needed to repair any damage, only to complete the deal.

The Army Corps of Engineer representative wrote back: “I’m sorry sir for the inconvenience. I will share this, someone should contact you soon to restore your property to its normal condition. I am very sorry.”

This was followed by another email on June 7th, which reiterated Cantu’s position. This was roughly the mark of one year since signing the registration right.

A March 7, 2022 email from Cantu to the Army Corps representative showed Cantu’s frustration. It can be read below:

“I received a letter from USBP. It says if I have any questions, I can contact you. I called you a few days ago and you didn’t answer my call. The phone number on the letter is a number that will not go through How will you condemn my country if you don’t even call back?

“I don’t see how you can condemn my property when you told me in the beginning I could get out of this at any time… is that how government works?

“You also told me that your bosses are willing to pay more than you offered? We talked about 50-100,000 per acre and you said you agreed with that number, so I went ahead.

“Please explain to me how you can tell me you’re giving me what I want per acre and then send me a letter offering considerably less and now you plan to condemn my property because I don’t.” I won’t take the offer when you told me to. At first I was able to drop out at any time. I even have text messages where I said, “I might not want to sell,” and you replied, “Yes sir. Once you receive the letter, just reply however you wish. A counter offer to see where we go would be best, but IT IS YOUR CHOICE.’

“It sounds like you’re playing games and telling people what they want to hear and then stealing the property for nothing. My property wasn’t even the first choice.”

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