Eminent domain power is available only for a public use with the need for certain property rights. Public use and the need are two issues raised in a county suit to protect property rights.
Northampton County challenging PennEast on eminent domain
Northampton County wants a jury to decide whether publicly protected open space should be disturbed by the proposed PennEast Pipeline.
The county is one of dozens of landowners in Northampton and Upper Bucks counties targeted by the consortium of energy companies for property acquisition through eminent domain.
These properties are part of the proposed route for the 36-inch-diameter natural gas line connecting Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale region 120 miles southeast to Mercer County, New Jersey.
PennEast opened eminent domain proceedings, suing property owners in federal court after efforts failed to purchase land for the route.
Federal regulators approved the $1 billion pipeline Jan. 19, conditioned on PennEast securing other necessary approvals.
The county disputes PennEast’s power to condemn publicly preserved open space through eminent domain. The parcels in Lower Nazareth and Williams townships are protected from condemnation, according to the county.
“The county’s position is that PennEast is trying to use eminent domain for a private enterprise, not one that benefits the public,” the county says in a news release. “The county is also disputing that PennEast is offering fair market value for the easements and that attempting to acquire the title to the property rights prior to payment for compensation violates the separation of powers doctrine.”
Michael Corriere, the county’s first assistant solicitor, requested a jury trial, maintaining that taking the conservation easements are not required for the installation, operation or maintenance of the pipeline. The county also requests PennEast’s suit be dismissed and the county be awarded attorney fees and costs.
PennEast declined to comment on the county’s position. But in a statement following the Jan. 19 conditional approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, PennEast spokeswoman Patricia Kornick said of eminent domain proceedings:
“Through hundreds of meetings and discussions, PennEast has worked collaboratively with landowners, with approximately 75 percent providing survey access
“Unfortunately, organized and unaccountable opposition groups have their own political agenda and use landowners’ withholding survey access to advance that agenda — to the detriment of the landowners. While PennEast views legal proceedings as emotional, burdensome and costly for all involved, it exercised that last-resort option Feb. 6.”
PennEast hopes to begin construction this year on the pipeline, first proposed in August 2014. It is designed to carry up to 1.1 million dekatherms per day of natural gas for domestic energy use, the equivalent of supplying 4.7 million homes. Construction is projected to take about seven months.
Written by: Kurt Bresswein | lehighvalleylive.com
Graphic caption: This PennEast Pipeline Co. LLC shows the route of its proposed 116-mile, 36-inch-diameter natural gas line from Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, to Mercer County, New Jersey, as of September 2016, the most recent map available on the energy company consortium’s website. Visit penneastpipeline.com for a more detailed version. (Courtesy image | For lehighvalleylive.com)