Advice to Landowners About Interstate Pipelines

Let’s be honest. Using eminent domain to force landowners to allow interstate pipelines to be run across their property is a bad idea. At least it is in MDN’s opinion. Some pipeline companies have sought and have been awarded public utility status, and that status allows them to use eminent domain to grab property to run pipelines. It’s disgusting. They are not public utilities in the way a power company is a utility that needs to put up electric polls.

Two lawyers from Columbus, Ohio caution landowners to get a second opinion when it comes to negotiating to have pipelines runs across their property, like the ATEX Express ethane pipeline that’s currently being built across Ohio. They also counsel that although eminent domain can force landowners to allow a pipeline, landowners still have at least some rights under eminent domain.

William A. Goldman and Michael Braunstein of Columbus-based Goldman & Braunstein LLP, said the general public typically doesn’t realize the impact a pipeline can have on the long-term value of their property.

"People might think a pipeline is going to be underground, so it won’t be much of an issue," Braunstein said Wednesday prior to a landowners’ meeting at the Jefferson County Joint Vocational School. "We tell them as with any real estate transaction, they should get a second opinion."

The problem, Goldman said, is that a gas pipeline severely limits how a property can be used in future: Nothing can be built above it, nor can you plant trees on the site, though annual crops are permitted. There also are restrictions on heavy vehicles driving across the surface above the underground pipelines.

"A pipeline can really restrict your ability" to use the property, Braunstein said. "It causes problems with the land that’s taken, also with the land that’s not taken."

He said in some instances, the pipeline may well be placed "a few hundred feet from (a) home."

"Everybody tells you it’s not dangerous, but the fact is, they do explode sometimes, sometimes they leak and sometimes the pipeline companies don’t maintain them the way they ought to," he said. "It decreases the resale value of a house, sometimes significantly."*

If you’re approached, do you have to sign? No. But you may end up in an eminent domain proceeding if you don’t.

Properties in the pipeline’s route will be surveyed, after which the company typically will offer a cash settlement. Property owners sometimes feel pressured to sign…declining the offer doesn’t mean the pipeline will go elsewhere. Those who do decline the cash offer could find themselves being targeted with eminent domain proceedings.

"If anybody tells you they can stop the pipeline from going in, they’re kidding you," Braunstein said. "You can’t stop the pipeline but sometimes you can alter its course" if the intended route goes through wetlands or an archeologically significant area, for instance.

Braunstein said it’s important for people to understand that in eminent domain cases, "the individual does have more rights than in other cases."*

If you work for a pipeline company, or have an opposing view, leave us a comment and tell us why eminent domain is a good thing for pipeline companies.

*Steubenville (OH) The Herald-Star (May 13, 2012) – Firm: Get a second opinion with gas pipeline easements