Federal Judge Bars Atlantic Coast Pipeline from entering Private Property
A federal judge recently ruled that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline cannot clear trees on two rural farmsteads. U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle ruled that pipeline developers must first compensate the two landowners before its crews can enter the private properties.
The 600-mile natural gas project led by Charlotte’s Duke Energy and Richmond's Dominion Energy is already behind schedule. Pipeline developers scrambled to meet the March 31 Federal Energy Regulatory Commission deadline to cut down trees before the start of the migratory bird nesting season.
In Boyle’s March 16, 2018 decision, he sided with the two landowners deeming their concerns trump those of a pipeline development schedule. His ruling could force the delay of construction for months.
Approximately 1,000 homes and farms are in the path of the proposed pipeline route. Many landowners signed easement agreements and accepted compensation for the loss of their property rights. However, many property owners believe the pipeline will make it more difficult to sell or develop their land in the future.
One landowner, Ronnnie Locke, has refused to settle with the company, unless the Atlantic Coast Pipeline agrees to reroute the pipeline away from his house. Locke will lose his timber crop. When Locke requested the line be re-routed, more than a year went by before he received a response and by that time it was too late for alternations.
Locke’s attorney, Chuck Lollar, Sr. weighed in on the federal judge ruling and acknowledged that delays could have serious consequences for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Lollar noted the decision is unusual since it requires compensatory payment to landowners as a condition of entering private property.
Locke testified and relayed to Boyle that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline has not negotiated in good faith. Lollar suggested in court that surveyors pulled a bait-and-switch on Locke, by increasing the amount of land they wanted to use on Locke's property for the pipeline while reducing their initial offer from $20,000 to $14,000.
Lollar, who practices with Raleigh law firm Edwards Kirby, said if Locke's case goes to trial, it's likely his law partner and former U.S. presidential candidate John Edwards would help pick the jury.
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Across the country, pipeline developers sue landowners in eminent domain proceedings to gain access to their private properties. Pipelines near homes or farms hinder many aspects of life. Property owners will not be able to grow trees or build structures within a certain amount of feet of the line. Farming operations could also be negatively impacted due to loss of fertile land.
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