I own land, directly in the path of the proposed Constitution Pipeline. The property is quite hilly and has beautiful views. There is one small area near the top, which has a gradual enough slope to build a home.
Last December, Constitution asked for permission to survey. Their map shows the pipeline running directly through the only area suitable for building, siting a septic field, driveway and home. I realized that the pipeline if built would render my property, un-buildable, un-mortgage-able, un- insurable, and nearly worthless.
I Joined Stop The Pipeline and refused permission to survey. Over the next few months I learned a lot about Williams, Constitution, FERC, and the politics of pipelines and eminent domain.
Then I received Constitution’s offer for their completely one-sided right of way agreement. They say their limited-time initial offer is for 3 times the value of the right of way. Yet it represents only 15% of the value of the land. Their terms are ominous- a virtual minefield of legal traps. And attached is a thinly veiled, threatening letter explaining that if I do not agree they will take the right of way, against my wishes, by using Eminent Domain.
SIGN-OR ELSE! What should I do?
There is no way I can or would agree. There is no way I would sign any contract to do business with them.
I know that legally, the situation is out of my control and that they can take their easement under federal law by utilizing eminent domain.
Their tactics attempted to make me feel helpless, and, for a while I did, dealing with a depressing, seemingly hopeless, situation. But joining STP helped me realize that by resisting collectively, we have a good chance of stopping them. That was when I started to investigate and learn about what actually happens in Eminent Domain.
Rather then simply stonewall; to refuse to sign, I decided to fight, to take them on face-to face. So I met with the Right of Way agent for Constitution.
First we discussed the survey. Having previously denied permission I asked how the survey was performed because in the legend it used the words "field survey". The agent knew that I had denied permission. I asked him if they were illegally on my land and he said that the survey was done virtually, using GPS coordinates from the tax map. I did not believe him, as there were numerous sightings of surveyors by my neighbors.
I told him that he was ruining my investment. He did not argue that the amount offered would be an insignificant fraction of the amount the property would depreciate. He said emphatically, that the price was firm and they would not negotiate. They do not pay more, or buy the entire parcel under any circumstances.
I told him the route ran right through the only place on the property where I could site a home. He replied that the route is non-negotiable.
We discussed their right in the proposed contract to cross my property to gain access to the right of way. He denied that. I told him that he was being misleading, showing him the access clause in the proposed agreement. He said it wasn't true. I told him the contract rules, not what he says. He implied it could be negotiated.
We discussed the planned access road just to the north of my property line. He said that permission for this was not yet granted. This is conjecture, but I got the impression he was having a hard time getting people to sign, not just next door, but also with others.
I brought up the prepayment for future damages clause. He said they would pay all costs and I said that’s not true… just read the contract. He replied that Constitution would hold me harmless. I countered with Constitution’s right to sell or assign to anyone. Who will be the responsible party?
This led to the question of insolvency or failure or bankruptcy of Constitution. I told him I was not going to accept this “Pandora’s Box” of legal pitfalls at any price. His answer was to say he would check this out with some higher-ups and get back to me. He has not contacted me.
Unfortunately I forgot to mention the inability of a landowner to get a mortgage when an interstate high-pressure pipeline is nearby a potential structure.
I brought up liability and insurance issues. I told him I would never sign because by signing I was buying into an unending liability for damages by becoming his partner in a commercial- industrial operation. I would always have an increased insurance cost and would have to carry huge & expensive limits for liability, if the property was insurable at all. He gave no response.
I left the most important for last. We discussed eminent domain. He said they were reluctant to use it but then openly threatened that they would absolutely use it if I didn't come around and sign.
I think I shocked him when I told him my best course of action was to have him TAKE the right of way from me by eminent domain! The court would still award me something, but more important, I would have no liability. He said nothing. He had no answer. He said he would get back to me. He never has.
I think this discussion of asking him to take me by Eminent Domain set him aback. He seemed unprepared. I think he was used to forcing landowners to sign using the Eminent Domain club. Constitution uses Eminent Domain as a bargaining tool, but it can be put to good use against them.
Here is my laypersons view:
IF I SIGN:
I give away my right to sue.
I enter into a business deal with unknown future liabilities.
I have continuing extra insurance expense.
BY TELLING THEM to TAKE MY LAND:
Only gas can be transported, no tar sands or other liquids.
No future pipelines or other utilities will be allowed.
We gain political power when significant numbers of landowners refuse to sign.
FERC’s mandate is to listen to landowners.
They lose their bargaining tool when eminent domain is seen as better for me.
I still get paid something,
I have no liability,
I preserve my right to sue them later, in a class action for a taking of my land,
Only the landowners can stop Constitution. WE have the power. Hundreds of landowners have to welcome eminent domain as the best option, and as the only way to prevail. I know there are many other landowners who believe this. Please start expressing it in public now, in order to grow the movement.
To stop them, we need to refuse signing, and to threaten a class action lawsuit for the full value of our property, presenting them with a huge political and financial problem.
Make this public! Make them walk away! ONLY by refusing to sign can we win. It is your active resistance that will prevail. This can be done. We must hit them where it hurts.
TELL THEM TO TAKE THAT EASEMENT BY EMINENT DOMAIN.
Robert Lidsky, Andes, NY July 8, 2013