The Washington County Judge has provided an additional stay, or delay, in the consolidation cases to allow for the parties to resolve the cases. The involved four cases with property owner representation by Attorney Mike Faherty have progressed to written resolutions. The property owners agreed to modified and restricted easement language with large financial settlements. Cox v. Sunoco is expected to be fully resolved, without a decision on eminent domain power, by September of 2014.
Author Archive | Eminent Domain PA
Mike Faherty, shown below at right, attended the Lebanon County presentation by Williams Company concerning the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline. A company representative indicated plans for 50 foot wide permanent pipeline easements and 75 foot wide temporary easements. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is expected to consider a pipeline proposal. Williams Company is expected to attempt to purchase easements based on linear foot calculations. In truth, property owners at entitled to just compensation as defined by before minus after value as damages per the Pennsylvania Eminent Domain Code.
Lebanon County residents look over maps showing the route of Williams’ proposed natural-gas pipeline during an open house Tuesday night at Annville-Cleona High School. Many of those attending the meeting expressed concern over the proposed route. (Les Stewart — Lebanon Daily News)
Open house at Annville-Cleona draws residents concerned over natural-gas pipeline proposalLebanon Daily News
By Les Stewart
Some expressed concern for their safety, some sought more information, and some are against the whole idea.
Those were among the reactions during an open house Tuesday night for a proposed natural-gas pipeline that Oklahoma-based Williams wants to build across Lebanon County.
Some 300 people examined maps spread out on tables showing the proposed pipeline route during the meeting at Annville-Cleona High School to see how the proposed pipeline would affect their properties.
Maps of the proposed 27-mile Central Penn South line show the pipeline crossing from Pine Grove Township in Schuylkill County into Lebanon County near Swatara State Park. The pipeline skirts the northern edge of the park in Union Township before doglegging south near Lickdale. From there, it continues south through East Hanover, North Annville, South Annville and South Londonderry townships before entering Lancaster County at Lawn.
The project is part of Williams’ Atlantic Sunrise Project, a 176-mile pipeline that would connect to the company’s pipelines in natural gas-rich northeastern Pennsylvania to its 10,200 miles of distribution pipelines stretching from the Texas Gulf Coast to New York.
Although the pipeline will not go through his property, Grant Taylor of North Annville Township said it is close enough that it has him concerned. “If those lines blow up, and they make a 50-foot crater, the proposed pipeline would be 25 feet away from my house,” he said. “My family’s safety is number one.” Taylor said he was also concerned an old growth of trees near his home would be knocked down to make way for the pipeline. In addition, he worries how the pipeline might affect his water supply.
Patrick Kerwin, also of North Annville, noted the pipeline crossing an area underlain by limestone that is prone to sinkholes. If the pipeline were to break, he said, it would pollute the area’s water supply. He also wondered how the expansion of the Millard Quarry would affect the proposed pipeline. “It just seems like we’re looking for trouble,” Kerwin said. “It seems like there ought to be better route than through unstable limestone.”
Lebanon County Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz said residents should have a meeting with company officials to get more answers. The Tuesday open house, she said, seemed like “a show and tell like we did in first grade.” People have questions about the project, she added. They want to know the pipeline will be safe, and their properties and their water will be safe. “They deserve real answers,” she said.
Litz said she asked company officials for a complete set of maps showing the proposed route and was told it would take several weeks to get them. She said she also asked why the company could not build the pipeline across its existing pipeline. “Why are they cutting across our precious farmland?” she asked. Litz said she has heard stories that banks will not provide mortgages, and insurance companies will not write insurance policies for properties with a gas line running through them.
Williams spokesman Christopher Stockton said the company has heard those stories as well. He said Williams has contacted some of the lenders that people have cited and found that is not the case. He said Williams operates 15,000 miles of pipeline across the country, and “that has not been an issue at all.” Williams is aware of concerns about the path of the pipeline near areas underlain by limestone, Stockton said. The company will conduct extensive studies looking for problem areas to ensure the safety of the pipeline. “At the end of the day, the safe operation of the pipeline is our number-one priority,” he said.
For example, Stockton said, the company goes beyond federal requirements regarding welds on its pipelines. Stockton said there is now more natural gas production in Pennsylvania than in the Gulf of Mexico. In the past, natural gas was transported from the south to the north, he said. The Pennsylvania portion is part of a $3 billion project that will run through five states, he said. “This project turns the pipeline around,” he said, allowing for gas produced in the north to be shipped toward the Gulf Coast.
Robin Maguire of Conestoga and Tim Spiese of Martic Township, Lancaster County, both said they were against the whole idea of the project. Maguire said she believed all the gas would be headed to overseas markets. Spiese said he was concerned the pipeline company will take the land it wants through eminent domain. Lebanon Pipeline Awareness, a local group against the project, set up a table outside the high school and invited those attending the open house to sign a petition asking the county commissioners to hold a public meeting to allow residents to get more answers about the project.
Litz said she would favor that type of meeting.
Cox v. Sunoco Pipeline
Judge Katherine B. Emery of Washington County has issued another Order in the Sunoco Pipeline efforts to use eminent domain for the Pennsylvania Pipeline. On May 23, 2014, the Judge learned that four of the five consolidated cases had progressed to verbal agreements and the fifth case was nearing settlement. She ordered the matter stayed, or delayed, until June 23, 2014. By then the five cases are likely to be settled. Judge Emery thus would not decide the eminent domain case of Cox v. Sunoco. Multiple other similar cases before her would then be allowed to progress to a decision.
Tentative settlement reached in Sunoco Pipeline eminent domain caseby: Scott Beveridge, staff writer
observer-reporter.com, Published May 27, 2014
A tentative out-of-court settlement was reached between Sunoco Pipeline and a Chartiers Township couple who were attempting to prevent the company from imposing eminent domain to secure an easement to cross their property for a new Marcellus Shale pipeline.
Sunoco attorneys informed Washington County Judge Katherine B. Emery Friday of the pending agreement that would end the case involving Ron and Sallie Cox, who headed a list of more than 40 local property owners involved in similar litigation with the company, the judge’s law clerk said Tuesday. Three other cases were combined with the Cox appeal.
The remaining lawsuits stand in the way of Sunoco completing a 50-mile pipeline from MarkWest Energy’s gas-processing plant in Chartiers to Delmont to hook into a nearly 20-year-old line crossing Pennsylvania into Delaware.
Central to the Cox appeal was whether Sunoco could claim public utility status to acquire easements for the pipeline.
The complicated legal battle saw Sunoco switch attorneys in March in the Washington County case and in a related appeal before the state Public Utility Commission when its former law firm was accused of having a conflict of interest with the PUC. Sunoco, meanwhile, lost an appeal in York County in February involving a related pipeline project there.
Sunoco spokesman Jeff Shields didn’t return messages Tuesday. The Coxes and their attorney, Harrisburg attorney Michael Faherty, who represents the Coxes and others involved in the challenges, confirmed there was a oral agreement to settle with the Chartiers couple and three other property owners.
Faherty said the terms of the settlements would not be divulged “for the time being.”
Emery apparently was prepared to rule in the Cox case after Friday’s deadline for Sunoco’s new law firm to catch up on the case.
The company also hasn’t file a petition in Washington County Court to withdraw its case against the Coxes.
A pipeline company sought a pipeline easement along the edge of a commercial property in Reading, Pennsylvania. The pipeline company offered $35,000.00 for the easement. Mike Faherty provided representation and pointed out that the easement rights interfered with access. During the course of negotiations, the pipeline company obtained approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for the pipeline. The matter settled with language to protect the commercial sign for the property and to reduce the rights from multiple pipelines to a single pipeline. The matter settled for $85,000.00.
York County President Judge Linebaugh previoulsy denied the Sunoco request for eminent domain/survey rights. Judge Linebaugh’s later denial of the Motion for Reconsideration occurred on March 25, 2014. The following day Sunoco filed a Praecipe to Discontinue. On April 11, 2014 Sunoco filed a Motion to Strike Praecipe to Discontinue. On April 17, 2014 Judge Linebaugh heard oral argument concerning the Motion to Strike Praecipe to Discontinue. Mike Faherty pointed out five procedural deficiencies in the Motion. He argued that the Request to Discontinue should be denied because Sunoco failed to show prejudice.
He also argued prejudice to the property owners, the Lopers, if Sunoco was allowed to switch its position concerning discontinuance after Judge Linebaugh’s definitive March 25, 2014 Order. Judge Linebaugh indicted he was not inclined to decide the Sunoco request prior to the appeal deadline concerning Judge Linebaugh’s March 25, 2014 Order. He proceeded with a dictated Order from the bench indicating that Sunoco’s Motion to Strike Praecipe to Discontinue would be taken under advisement.
The significance is that Judge Linebaugh is not now inclined to provide any further Orders before the appeal deadline of approximately April 24, 2014. Thus, Judge Linebaugh’s Orders denying eminent domain/survey rights could become final as of April 24, 2014.
Publishedn in Press Enterprise
Land surveyors plan to visit about 300 properties in nine Columbia County townships in the coming months as an energy company maps a route for a proposed natural gas pipeline. Maps of the proposed line show that it would bisect the county along a north-south route, from Sugarloaf Township north of Benton to Cleveland Township south of Catawissa. Williams Partners, a Tulsa, Okla., energy firm, also plans to build a 25,000-horsepower compressor station somewhere in Columbia County. Preliminary maps indicate it will be located near the county’s northern line.If Williams gets Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approval for the 176-mile line through six Pennsylvania counties, it will begin negotiations to buy roughly 55-foot-wide land easements from property owners along its preferred path. If property owners object, Williams will seek the easements through eminent domain in the courts.
“Generally, once the FERC issues a certificate of public convenience and necessity for a project, the company may, by virtue of the authority granted in the U.S. Natural Gas Act, seek authority from the court to obtain the limited rights necessary to construct, operate and maintain a pipeline,” Williams says in its website primer on pipeline construction. Williams hopes to have the $2 billion line flowing with gas by the second half of 2017. It plans to host about a dozen public meetings in May or June in the five counties through which the line would pass.’Be wary’ Columbia County commissioners “would suggest anybody who (gets a letter from Williams requesting a land survey) to certainly get some legal counsel,” said Commissioner Chris Young. Young said if his property was targeted for the line, he would insist Williams pay for any legal bills he might incur for advice. Under Pennsylvania law, landowners can recoup up to $4,000 for legal and engineering fees from a pipeline builder
“But that’s only if a property owner chooses to fight a pipeline, and the pipeline builder goes to court claiming the power of eminent domain”, said lawyer Michael Faherty, who has represented landowners in hundreds of such cases. Faherty, of Lavery Faherty Patterson in Harrisburg, recommends hiring a lawyer to anyone whose property is being eyed by a pipeline firm. “Landowners need to be wary about these companies that come looking to acquire land, they don’t have an obligation to be telling the truth,” Faherty said. “They need to be wary of land agents.”‘Risk of explosion’ Faherty said the price landowners may fetch for an easement is based on the amount of property sought as well as the value of a property before and after a line is built.
With before- and after-pipeline appraisals, landowners can negotiate to recoup a loss in property value due to the line, Faherty said. “Some properties can be harmed by visual impact, harm of access and risk of explosion.” Faherty recommends against immediately getting an appraisal, suggesting a landowner first try to negotiate easements with the help of a lawyer. Just last week, Faherty settled an eminent domain case for a pipeline in the Reading area for $50,000. The company originally wanted to pay $3,000 to use a stretch of a business’ property, Faherty said. He said that easements under commercial properties typically fetch more than residential sites.
Expanding the pipeline as proposed now, the “Atlantic Sunrise” pipeline would cut through Columbia, Northumberland, Schuylkill, Lebanon and Lancaster counties, connecting branches of Williams’ Transco pipeline to the north and south. The project is fueled by the reserves of natural gas in the Marcellus Shale of northeast Pennsylvania that can be routed through the line to customers in Atlantic seaboard states, according to Williams.Williams spokesman Chris Stockton stressed that the company’s plans are preliminary. This means exact locations have not been determined for both the compressor station, a building of electric motors that pushes gas through the line, and the route of the 42-inch line itself.
The number of properties through which the pipeline will pass in Columbia County will “significantly decline” once the route is finalized, Stockton added. Stockton said half the route for a recent Williams project in Susquehanna County and New York was altered after public meetings, at which the firm heard concerns from landowners. Transco is the largest-volume natural gas pipeline system in the U.S., delivering natural gas through a 10,200-mile network.
Mike Faherty appeared in the York County Court of Common Pleas on February 6, 2014, to oppose a Sunoco pipeline (Mariner East) request for an immediate right to survey a Mechanicsburg property. Mike argued that the request should be denied because federal jurisdiction preempted the state jurisdiction or because Sunoco failed to correctly start litigation per Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure. In the alternative, Mike argued for denial of the request because: (1) Sunoco is not a Condemnor, (2) Pennsylvania Business Corporation Law does not allow eminent domain for propane or ethane transportation, (3) Federal law requires a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity, and (4) State law requires a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity. The judge approved Mike’s suggestion that the judge accept written argument over the following two weeks.
Mike Faherty represented multiple property owners vs. Sunoco Pipeline on January 21 before Judge Emery in Washington, Pa. Mike pointed out that the Sunoco legal authority to date has yet to identify any specific law giving eminent domain power for the Mariner East Pipeline. Mike also elicited evidence that the appraisal approach was wrong per the Eminent Domain Code and the bond security was inadequate. Judge Emery may decide the initial four cases within a month.
Pa. Eminent Domain Pipeline Fight Headed to CourtNBC 10 Philadelphia | Sunday, Jan 19, 2014
Ron and Sallie Cox’s house in North Strabane Township is nestled behind a lush forest they are fighting to protect from a new natural gas pipeline inching toward their property.
The couple are so adamant about preserving their land that they have found themselves among more than two dozen property owners in Washington County involved in a complicated legal battle challenging Sunoco Pipeline’s right to cross their land. “It’s a disaster,” Sallie Cox said last week as her attorney prepared their case against the Philadelphia-based company’s claims it’s a public utility and has a right to impose eminent domain powers to enter private property for the 50-foot-wide project.
Arguments in the Cox case will be heard Tuesday in Washington County Court, and it’s outcome likely will set the tone for how the others will play out as Sunoco constructs a 50-mile pipeline from Washington County to Delmont in Westmoreland County. Sunoco began filing declarations of taking in Washington County Court last year, lawsuits that sought to condemn property and have the court approve the amount of bonds it needed to post to cover any damages.
President Judge Debbie O’Dell Seneca ruled the cases are too complicated to hear individually and consolidated them Nov. 11. The Coxes then claimed they were being treated unfairly and challenged Sunoco’s public utility status. Eight others involved in the case also countersued.
As a result, Washington County Judge Katherine B. Emery ruled the countersuits need to be settled before the company can proceed with condemnations, and she will proceed first with hearing arguments in the Cox appeal as to whether Sunoco is a public utility.
“The property owners have their full right to use their property as they wish,” said Harrisburg attorney Michael F. Faherty, who represents the Coxes and nine other property owners. Faherty argued in his Wednesday response to the court that Sunoco needs to obtain eminent domain authorization for the pipeline from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, claiming the state court has no jurisdiction in the case. He said some of his clients don’t want Sunoco to take their land, while others feel they have not been offered “persuasive enough prices.”
The Coxes are among those who don’t want the pipeline and have complained that they wouldn’t be allowed to plant anything on the right of way and don’t want to deal with the company spraying to maintain a clear path for the pipeline. “I’m one of the people here who has the most to lose,” said the Coxes’ neighbor, Raymond Romanetti, who races horses and has yet to join the lawsuit. “It’s ridiculous that someone has to hire an attorney to protect their property,” Romanetti said.
In Sunoco’s Jan. 10 answer to the court, its attorneys argue it has eminent domain powers under FERC rules, which permit privately held companies to build an interstate pipeline, court records show.
This pipeline, named Mariner East, would connect to MarkWest Energy’s gas-processing plant in Chartiers Township and hook up to an existing, nearly 20-year-old line crossing Pennsylvania into Delaware. Range Resources of Southpointe is a partner and would ship ethane and propane in the pipeline from MarkWest, company spokesman Matt Pitzarella said. “Obviously, it’s an important project to us,” Pitzarella said.
Sunoco states in court records it no longer wishes to voluntarily negotiate purchase prices for the unsettled cases due to the “anticipated delay” of the project. Company spokesman Jeffrey P. Shields said Sunoco doesn’t comment on pending litigation. When the project was announced in March Sunoco expected construction to be underway before the end of last year.
“We are in the process of clearing right of ways and flagging construction areas, and we started directional drills and boring this week,” Shields said. “We expect to begin installing pipe in the next two weeks,” he added.
Sunoco files for eminent domain to acquire Penn land for pipeline
Photo: Lillian DeDomenic | For The Penn Trafford Star
By Chris Foreman
Staff Reporter, Tribune-Review
Published: Wednesday, July 17, 2013
Sunoco Pipeline officials are trying to use eminent domain to acquire an easement in the vicinity of a retirement home and assisted-living center in Penn Township for a 50-mile liquid gas-transmission line. The company last week filed a petition in Westmoreland County Common Pleas Court against Quest Realty Partnership, which owns an 89 acres that are bordered by Mellon, Ader and Walton Roads. Quest also owns an adjacent property at Ader and Walton that has the William Penn Care Center and William Penn Senior Suites and Personal Care.
Court records show the filing is Sunoco’s first attempt in the county to take right-of-way against a property owner’s wishes for the Mariner East project. Sunoco also initiated cases last week to request court orders enabling it to go onto properties in Sewickley and South Huntingdon townships to perform environmental testing related to the proposed pipeline path.
Sunoco has plans to run its pipeline — to transport ethane and propane as natural gas liquids — along the same route as an existing line owned by Dominion Transmission Inc. Dominion previously got a court order to condemn via eminent domain a portion of Quest’s property along Mellon Road in August 2011.
In its filing against Quest, Sunoco said it may use the right of eminent domain because it is considered a “public utility corporation” under Pennsylvania’s Business Corporation Law.
But a Harrisburg attorney who represents some Washington County property owners in the pipeline’s path says it’s not clear to him that Sunoco has the authority for eminent domain.
Under the law Sunoco cites, a company may receive permission to condemn land for pipes transporting natural gas, petroleum or petroleum products but not natural-gas liquids, Michael Faherty said.
“I think it’s open to a number of challenges,” Faherty said after reviewing a copy of Sunoco’s filing.
Quest’s attorney, George Pomper, also disputed Sunoco’s authority in a letter earlier this year in which he opposed Sunoco’s court filing to conduct environmental testing on Quest’s property.
“Sunoco is not a ‘utility’ to the best of our knowledge,” Pomper said in the Jan. 24 letter filed in court records. “Sunoco is known as a gasoline retailer and purveyor of motoring products such as wiper blades, tires and convenience store goods. “The owners of Quest Realty are not aware of any electricity, natural gas, water and the like sold by Sunoco to the public.” Pomper did not return messages from the Penn-Trafford Star about Sunoco’s filing.
Sunoco spokesman Joe McGinn and Sunoco’s Greensburg-based attorneys, George Stewart and Dara DeCourcy, also did not respond to requests for comment.
Landowners who oppose eminent domain can raise objections questioning whether a company is properly licensed or if a project could create environmental concerns, said Peter Georgiades, a Pittsburgh attorney who specializes in eminent domain issues. But simply saying “I don’t want it” isn’t sufficient, he said.
“There’s no leg to stand on if you don’t want it,” Georgiades said.
As of Monday, Sunoco reached agreements for rights-of-way for 16 Penn Township residential and industrial properties, county records show. Two months ago, Penn Township commissioners declined to act on Sunoco’s offer of a $1,550 payment for an easement on vacant property the township owns behind Smartie Artie’s at Zackel’s restaurant in Claridge. Manager Bruce Light he hasn’t heard anything from Sunoco since, but the township has received notice that Sunoco applied for an erosion and sedimentation control permit from the Westmoreland Conservation District.
Mike Faherty will serve on the faculty of the National Business Institute Seminar Eminent Domain From Start to Finish. Mike will speak on Settlement Strategies on August 19, 2013 in Harrisburg, Pa. Registration information may be obtained from the National Business Institute at www.nbi-sems.com.