One of SOC’s organizers had an editorial piece printed in the Press Enterprise on Friday, January 16. We have reposted it here for anyone who missed it or does not subscribe to the Press Enterprise. If you have comments or questions on this topic or any other, please feel free to write us an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or give us a call (570-204-8927).
“Don’t get bullied by pipeline firm”
Throughout the discussion of the proposed Atlantic Sunrise pipeline project there has been a lot of talk about eminent domain. Eminent domain is the process by which the government, or a government approved entity, seizes part or all of a property from a private citizen in exchange for a fair market payment, in order to complete a project which is for the public good. The most common use of eminent domain is in the building of state or federal highways, but recently pipeline companies have been attempting to use the same process to gain access to private land for pipeline right-of-ways (ROW’s). Many landowners along the proposed Atlantic Sunrise ROW have reported that Williams’ representatives (land-men) have used the threat of eminent domain to bully landowners into signing lease agreements. These land-men suggest that the pipeline is a done deal, and that if a landowner refuses to sign a lease agreement, either because they do not want the pipeline at all, or because they would like to further negotiate the terms of the lease, they will be forced to by eminent domain, and get a worse deal than what Williams is offering.
This is not true for a number of reasons. The Atlantic Sunrise pipeline project is not a done deal! Each month, the number of landowners who have said no to Williams increases. Currently 14% of landowners along the ROW have refused to allow Williams to survey their land. If that number climbs high enough, the project will not happen at all.
Williams has not received a certificate of public convenience and necessity from FERC. That means any threat of eminent domain is currently an empty threat. If it becomes clear that the majority of the gas transported will be exported, then Williams does not qualify for the right to use eminent domain. If Williams does eventually receive that permission, the eminent domain process is still not simple or short.
Landowners have a right to a hearing before a court to determine fair compensation for their land, including lost income and and future income. That negotiation process also allows landowners to make non-monetary demands, such as the exact location of the ROW, how deep the pipe is buried, or what future projects the ROW may be used for. If a landowner does not feel that the price and terms settled on are fair, they also have the right to appeal the decision and take it to a higher court. Any settlement can include legal fees, and there are federal provisions in place to provide several thousands of dollars for legal fees as well. Finally, any offers Williams has made to a landowner can be used in an eminent domain hearing to inform the eventual settlement terms, so paying less than they originally offered is not as easy as they make it sound.
Williams is counting on landowners feeling uninformed and powerless so they can bully their way through this project. Talk to your neighbors, talk to your elected officials, and make sure Williams knows that they cannot bulldoze their way through our land or our property rights.