SALEM, Ohio — Leaders of the Columbiana County Landowners Association, and related groups across the state opposing the proposed Independence natural gas pipeline, are still urging landowners not to sign right-of-way easements.
But if you do sign a right-of-way agreement, make sure you negotiate the contract to include your own terms.
“It’s just a contract and it’s negotiable,” said Ohio Farm Bureau Federation legal analyst Nan Still. “You’re going to be bound by that written word, no matter what it is.”
In Columbiana County, 44 of the 176 landowners in the pipeline path have already signed pipeline easements.
Approximately 50 people attended an informational meeting Oct. 12 at the Salem branch of Kent State University to get a pipeline update. OFBF’s Still was present to give landowners an idea of what terms they need to bargain for in their individual easement agreements.
In July, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved the pipeline’s Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity, which gives the proposal the green light. The Independence Pipeline Company accepted the terms of the certificate in August and is now authorized to begin construction of its natural gas pipeline from Defiance, Ohio, to Leidy, Pa.
The Ohio-Pa. Landowners Association is appealing the decision in a U.S. circuit court of appeals. “I think we still have a fighting chance or I wouldn’t be standing up here tonight,” said John Garwood of Leetonia, president of the Columbiana County Landowners Association.
“We haven’t signed an easement; we’re not going to sign an easement,” Garwood said. “We’ll take it all the way to the courts.”
The state association’s request for a rehearing by FERC was denied.
Before the construction project can go forward, FERC requires Independence to have contracts for about 70 percent of its pipeline capacity. In June, Independence met FERC’s requirement that the first 35 percent of those contracts be with nonaffiliates. It is currently working to secure the remaining long-term contracts.
Independence is also developing a plan for implementing the nearly 100 environmental mitigation conditions as required by FERC. That plan must be reviewed by FERC before construction can begin.
OFBF’s Still said landowners should be sure easement agreements specify minimum depth of installation and suggested that maintaining that depth over time should be the pipeline company’s responsibility.
She also emphasized landowners whose land will also be used for construction roads get road construction details in writing, such as payment for the road and whether or not the landowner has say in where the road(s) will be located on his property.
The contract should also specify payment for damages for future repair and if the property is tiled, the contract should include tile repair details.
Still also encouraged landowners to include a date in the easement agreement by which construction must start or the agreement is void. An open-ended contract unnecessarily encumbers the property, she warned.
The pipeline has the right of eminent domain, which is the right to take private property and use it for the public. This means the pipeline must submit to the owner a “good faith offer” of “just compensation” to acquire the easement. Implicit in the good faith offer procedure is an attempt by the agency to “negotiate” with the owner.
In reality, Still said, the pipeline company may offer the landowner the standard easement contract as a “good faith offer” and take the landowner’s response as an attempt at negotiation.
Final compensation through the eminent domain process is determined through judicial hearing. Individual landowners will not be able to negotiate easement terms if settled through eminent domain.
“It’s really premature to talk about eminent domain,” said Joe Martucci, manager of corporate communications for ANR Pipeline Company, parent company of Independence Pipeline Company. “We will make fair and equitable offers for the easements. Eminent domain should not be necessary.”
Martucci said the in-service date is currently scheduled for November 2002, with construction slated to begin in the spring of 2002.
The 36-inch diameter Independence Pipeline link would transport up to 1 billion cubic feet of gas per day. The project’s estimated cost is $677.9 million.