Landowners Going to Federal Court to Fight Pipeline Eminent Domain Condemnation

UPDATE(3/23/2017): Williamsport, PA – Federal Judge rules in favor of Williams to use eminent domain.

Cassie Moore
Shalefield Organizing Committee

Deirdre Lally
Clean Air Council

Landowners Going to Federal Court to Fight Pipeline Eminent Domain Condemnation

Williamsport, Pa. – Landowners in the path of Williams Companies’ proposed Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline challenging eminent domain property seizure will appear in federal court in Williamsport on Thursday, at 9:30AM at 240 W 3rd St. #218, Williamsport, PA 17701.

The Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline is proposed to run north to south from Susquehanna County to Lancaster County Pennsylvania. The pipeline will transport gas obtained from Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale using the controversial method of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”

Judge Matthew W. Brann, an Obama appointment to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, Middle District of Pennsylvania, ordered landowners of ten properties to come to court for oral arguments regarding eminent domain condemnation in situations in which landowners refused easement offers.

Williams Companies proposed the pipeline project in 2014 and began offering easement agreements to landowners along the route in order to obtain a 75-foot right of way, access roads, and additional workspace. Some landowners refused, willing to face eminent domain to keep the pipeline from crossing their property.

Ryan Regec, a landowner from Schuylkill County, said, “I purchased this property to subdivide for building lots, but this pipeline will prevent me from building those homes. Williams has been unwilling to negotiate for the full value, make adjustments to the route, or even allow a road crossing for my construction equipment.”

“I have been dealing with them for three years and they have refused to negotiate. They plan to take 8.04 acres for the construction road and right of way, which crosses my entire property,” said Regec.

Susan Pantalone, a homeowner in Elysburg, Columbia County losing 0.47 acres, said, “It’s open season on citizens’ rights. We have been threatened with eminent domain since the beginning. All we did was say no.”

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the agency that permits interstate natural gas pipelines, dismissed landowner objections and issued their final approval, a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity, in February.

Clean Air Council, Allegheny Defense Project, and Sierra Club are challenging the FERC certificate, which allows Williams to petition a federal judge for eminent domain condemnation of properties for which landowners have not signed easements. FERC granted the groups’ request for a re-hearing on March 13, but a timeline for further review has yet to be set.

Judge Mann will hear arguments by Williams attorneys asking for “quick take” eminent domain condemnation, which would allow the company to build the pipeline before compensating landowners who have not given consent. The US Constitution Fifth Amendment’s just compensation clause reads “nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation,” but a “quick take” ruling would delay the compensation process for years.

On Monday, landowners for nine parcels in Lancaster County appeared in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals Eastern District of Pennsylvania in front of Judge Joseph Leeson in Allentown, also an Obama appointee. No ruling has been made following that hearing.

Final approval for the pipeline hinges on a Notice to Proceed with construction from the FERC, which can be issued for disputed properties only after the easement has been condemned by federal court.