Highland EDA Holds Informational Pipeline Forum

Landowners, county officials and other interested parties were present at The Highland Center on Wednesday, December 10th for an informational forum on pipeline issues. Sponsored by the EDA, at the request of the Highland Board of Supervisors, the meeting was intended to inform landowners about their rights if the proposed route of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline crossed their property.

First to speak was Robert Hart, an engineer with HartPetro, an energy company from West Virginia specializing in oil and gas matters. Mr. Hart gave an overview of the history behind the current natural gas boom. Prior to 2007, conventional wisdom was that the US was running out of fossil fuels, and was preparing to import more to satisfy energy needs. Research into the Marcellus shale, as well as new technologies such as hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling have changed that – the US is now the number one producer in the world. The issue this raises is that there are large supplies of resources in the northeast, but little in the way of infrastructure to get the product from the wells transported to users, hence the need to build new high capacity pipelines, dozens of which are currently proposed for construction.

Mr. Hart noted that construction details, including placement, depth and compensation were negotiable with the company at this point, before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issues a certificate of need for the project. At this point, the company could use eminent domain procedures against the landowner – however, companies would still prefer to negotiate agreements, due to costliness of the court proceedings involved.

The next speaker of the evening was attorney Joe Waldo, with the firm Waldo and Lyle. His firm represents property owners after eminent domain procedures have begun against them. He urged the audience to do all it could to stop the pipeline, including intervention, because once FERC issues a certificate of need, the company has the absolute right to build the pipeline using any methods available.

Mr. Waldo explained if eminent authority is granted, the condemning authority, in this case, Dominion Resources, must appraise the property. Landowners need to be informed that not only can they be compensated for the actual corridor of the pipeline, but for damage to the rest of the property as well.

“They’re going to appraise the rights that they take, but they’re not going to mention the damage, because the gas companies traditionally don’t see a damage. They’ll tell you we’re paying for the corridor, everything’s going to be ok. But, you’re entitled to, under what we call “accepted appraisal methodology” to be reimbursed for the impact that the gas line causes to the 300 acres that it ran through that they never took.

“What you want to be paid is “just compensation.” So when you talk to that appraiser, you tell the appraiser, I expect to be paid for all the “compensible elements of condemnation”. That means to the right of way agent, I understand about damages – I understand you’ve got to pay me for more than just the corridor.”

He also explained a methodology known as “paired sales analysis”, whereby the detrimental effects of an easement on property values are compared with equivalent property without a pipeline easement.

He also cautioned against extra rights given in the easement agreement which landowners may not be aware of, including cut and fill of land in the construction corridor as necessary, unspecified entrance locations to the property, and future installation of pipes in the same corridor without further compensation.

Mr. Waldo urged never to sign an easement agreement without being fully informed of your rights. He recommended his firm’s website, waldoandlyle.com as a resource for those wanting more information.

“You’re not going to need to go to court if you understand your rights and know your rights, chances are, and you’re prepared and educated, you can resolve it, but the only way you can resolve it in terms that will be fair to you is to understand your rights, to exercise your rights, to know everything about the process and how to protect yourself.”

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Scott Smith

Scott Smith is the General Manager for Allegheny Mountain Radio and Station Coordinator and News Reporter for WVLS. Scott’s family has deep roots in Highland County. While he did not grow up here, he spent as much time as possible on the family farm, and eventually moved to Highland to continue the tradition, which he still pursues with his cousin. Unfortunately, farming doesn’t pay all the bills, so he has previously taken other jobs to support his farming hobby, including pressman/writer for The Recorder, and Ag Projects Coordinator for The Highland Center. He lives in Hightown with wife Michelle and son Ethan. In his spare time, he wishes he had more spare time, especially to ride his prized Harley-Davidson motorcycle. scott@amrmail.org

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