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.