It does not matter if it is Sunoco, and the Mariner East Pipeline, Williams and the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline, or any other gas company, or pieline there are things you must do when they threaten to take your property.
Challenging Eminent Domain
The whole concept of eminent domain seems wrong. Why should a private company have the right to take your property without your consent? The reason a private pipeline company can condemn private property is because Congress and the state Legislature have said this can happen.
That means if you want to directly fight the condemnation, you have to fight on the basis the 4 objections set forth in the Eminent Domain Code:
"(i) The power or right of the condemnor to appropriate the condemned property unless it has been previously adjudicated.
(ii) The sufficiency of the security.
(iii) The declaration of taking.
(iv) Any other procedure followed by the condemnor."
Notice, none of these issues relates to pipeline safety, or any condition of the property being condemned. In the case of the Sunoco Mariner East 2 line, the PA Commonwealth Court on July 14, 2016, ruled Sunoco has power to condemn. This was an appeal from a Cumberland County dismissing property owners claims that the pipeline was inter-state and this not eligible for state law based condemnation.
The sufficiency of the security is the amount of the initial payment into court. If you win, they will simply post more money.
The final two issues can be boiled down to this: has the pipeline company followed the steps in the statute?
Chalenging the Pipeline
If you want to fight the pipeline itself, you need to focus on fighting the permits, or raising a constitutional argument. Article I Section 27 of the Pennsylvania constitution states:
"The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania's public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people."
The permit most often attacked is the NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) permit. In August of 2016 the PA DEP held public hearings on Sunoco's Mariner East 2 permit application. About 90% of the testimony was from labor groups and governmental representatives arguing Sunoco's Mariner East 2 pipeline would be good for jobs. Very few witness focused on the purpose of the hearing --- soil erosion control and storm water management.
Negotiating a Deal
There are some people who want to cave in, avoid conflict and take the money offered. Others want to fight for more money. Others are not sure what to do.
Let's start with the big picture. Ten years from now, the money will be gone but the terms of the easement will remain. The standard easement is what will remain if you fight eminent domain and lose, fight the pipeline and lose, or just focus on the money. The document is the most important thing, even if you are selling next year.
The changes to the standard easement, which our law firm negotiates are too numerous, and too property specific for this space. That said, you need to identify which are important for your property.
If you choose to fight the pipeline, good luck!
On the other hand, when you get an offer, you should take it to an experienced pipeline lawyer immediately. You will know the lawyer is experienced, if she or he tells you to first focus on the terms of the easement, and ignore money until you have every change you want. Only after the terms are satisfactory, should you talk money. In most cases, the lawyer will be able to negotiate more money to more than cover the fee.
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