Mich. Property Owners Sued for Not Making Way for Gas Pipeline

(Emily Larsen, Liberty Headlines) Fifty-eight Michigan property owners are being sued on eminent domain grounds to force access to their property for construction of a natural gas pipeline.

Photo by amerune

Karen Jones, of Putnam Township, says she will likely move away if the pipeline is constructed 100 feet from her home. She’s not willing to risk an explosion close to her house.

“It’s devastating,” Jones told the Detroit Free Press. “We built our house 11 years ago, and it’s all our blood, sweat and tears. It’s our retirement.”

Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners’ $4.2 billion Rover Pipeline would provide natural gas to markets in the Midwest, Northeast, East Coast, Gulf Coast, and Canada. It hopes to begin construction in the first quarter of 2017 and complete construction by November 2017.

Another Michigan property owner, William Atkinson, might face an access road through his property during the pipeline’s construction.

“It cuts by a tree swing our granddaughter plays on. To get to the swing from the house, she would have to cross the roadway. I don’t want them to cut trees down. I don’t want it through my backyard,” Atkinson told the Free Press. “If they really need to get around the pond, they can use other access points.”

The Livingston County Drain Commission is also being sued as part of the eminent domain push. Drain Commissioner Brian Jonckheere said it’s been “difficult” to work with the ET Rover Pipeline, and that the lawsuit seems “very abrupt.”

“We still haven’t been served with some of the papers,” he said.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved the plans for the 800-mile pipeline on February 2nd, but not all of the property owners have granted access to their land. Energy Transfer wants to use eminent domain to force access to private land to start construction immediately.

Ironically, environmental concerns about an endangered bat species are causing Energy Transfer to seize lands and expedite the usually months-long process. Because the Indiana Bat occupies trees in the pipeline’s path at certain times of the year, those trees must be cleared before March 31st.

“[T]he right of eminent domain does not exclude or distinguish between portions of the project in a particular state or area, but evaluates the regional and national benefits and necessity,” ET Rover states on its Rover Pipeline FAQ website.

Stanford L. Levin, emeritus professor of economics at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville, says that pipeline construction in the US is crucial for energy independence.

“[P]rompt action by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to approve other gas and oil pipelines, providing they meet all current environmental and safety regulations, would also permit the U.S. to benefit from its energy resources and would reduce our dependence on imported oil, especially from Venezuela and the Middle East,” Levin wrote in the Chicago Tribune.

Because of the sharp increase in production from 2005 to 2015, natural gas prices declined 238 percent, according to an IHS Economics study (pages 34-35). Pipelines also generate permanent economic and employment benefits for states and localities. The Rover Pipeline is expected to generate $147 million in tax revenue and create 10,000 jobs along the entire route.

Some eminent domain requests for pipelines have been stopped. In November, the West Virginia Supreme Court ruled that surveyors for the Mountain Valley Pipeline project could not survey land without the permission of the landowners. The project did not meet the standards of serving a “public use,” a standard required to seize land for eminent domain, according to the court.