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Landowners urged to resist pipeline

Published February 22. 2016 04:00PM

Landowners are feeling the pressure to make a decision about an offer from PennEast pipeline. That was the message when almost 30 members of Save Carbon County came together last week at the Towamensing Fire Hall.

Linda Christman said, "Ten days ago a land agent came to our house, sat at our kitchen table, told us what a great deal he was offering us, we're going to get a lot of money, that it was a premium offer, that it was the best offer that would be made, that it would only get worse from here on out, we should be grateful for this offer, and after he explained the easement, he handed it to my husband and I, and asked us to sign.

"That's what's happening to landowners now," Christman said, "placing them under extreme pressure."

Christman and husband Roy said they do not plan to sign any easement offer. "We are planning to take PennEast to eminent domain."

What you need to know

Attorney Peter J. Carfley, of Lavery Law in Harrisburg, who specializes in eminent domain, explained the process.

A "right-of-way agent" from a land acquisition company contracted by PennEast will present an offer to be paid for the easement sought over the property.

"You will be permanently giving up that strip of your property for the sole purpose of the pipeline," Carfley said.

"You may be offered a large sum of money ($11,000 to $41,000 per acre). What you want to be careful about, is that PennEast's attorneys are drafting the contract with only PennEast in mind."

Compensation is a one-time payment for the value of the land and the damages to the value of the property.

Payment does not include damages done to the property caused by the operation and maintenance of the pipeline, but does cover anything incidental such as increased homeowner's insurance premiums, real estate taxes, and value of trees and crops.

"Make sure the language in the contract indemnifies you in full compliance with any of the local ordinances and any safety regulations dictated by the state and federal government," Carfley said.

"Think of their contractors installing the pipeline, and say a neighbor is injured while a guest on your property, you want to be sure that all the responsibility falls on PennEast."

You also want to keep your boundaries to a single pipeline. Find out if there are potential damages that can impact your land, water line, home or garage.

Carfley suggested hiring a private surveyor and get an appraisal of your own if that's what it takes.

"The first offer is not always the best offer," Carfley said.

What's next?

PennEast applied for an application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Sept. 24.

If a landowner refuses to accept the property easement, then PennEast will have to take this matter to federal court for eminent domain.

Eminent domain is the power to take property for a "public use" without the consent of the owner of the property interest in exchange for just compensation. Just compensation is the difference between the fair market value of the entire property immediately before the condemnation and as unaffected by the condemnation and the fair market value of the property interest remaining immediately after the condemnation and as affected by the condemnation.

"Remember, eminent domain behooves them; it is very costly to them," Carfley said.

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