Gas Pipeline Uses 160 Eminent Domain Suits To Get People’s Property In 3 States

There are those who believe that any opposition will be crushed.

By Irina Slav,

Eminent domain is a tough pill to swallow for Americans who take their property rights very seriously, and the aggressive moves by Sabal Trail to seize property for a natural gas pipeline running through three southern states is turning into a drama of immense proportions.

Sabal Trail, the joint venture planning to build a 500-mile natural gas pipeline through Georgia, Alabama, and Florida, has gone to court in order to secure the right of way through the land where the pipeline should pass.

So far, Sabal Trail has filed 160 eminent domain suits and more are expected, according to a report by the Orlando Sentinel. The company is desperately trying to get the right of way through 346 more properties, though it says it has already secured the agreement of 1,248 landowners in the area along the route.

But it’s doubtful that any of these will be allowed by the respective courts to reach the stage of contestation and litigation due to the stated regional importance of the pipeline project.

Florida satisfies almost two-thirds of its power needs with natural gas. Coal is a distant second at around 22 percent, making gas the major source of power for the state. The numbers are not as high for Georgia and Alabama, but natural gas is a significant component of the energy source mix there as well.

Sabal Trail, which is owned by Spectra Energy Corp (NYSE: SE) and NextEra Energy (NYSE: NEE), will carry one billion cubic feet of gas daily once it starts operating at full capacity, and will supply it to regional utilities Florida Power and Light, Duke Energy, and Spectra. Construction works are slated to begin in late June, and the pipeline should be operational in May 2017.

The pipeline project, however, is facing serious opposition, which focuses on environmental and health concerns.

Local government officials in Georgia earlier this month said Sabal Trail operators were using the eminent domain suits to threaten stakeholders into granting the right of way for the pipeline and, worse, relinquishing any responsibility for damages to the pipeline that could pose environmental and health risks. The state’s representatives last week rejected a resolution that would have granted Sabal Trail easement through the problematic properties.

There are those who believe that any opposition will be crushed, because the project is so important it cannot be stopped.

As for those who disagree, the news that Kinder Morgan has suspended the construction of the Palmetto pipeline because of strong local opposition is somewhat reaffirming. Palmetto would have carried crude oil from South Carolina to Florida, but the Georgia legislature passed a moratorium on new oil pipeline construction in the state.

There are a lot of groups fighting the construction of the pipeline, and the Sabal Trail is likely to have a tough time getting the necessary right of way.

While it argues that the project will not only be safe but also economically beneficial for the three states, opponents counter with the danger of sinkholes and gas leaks, and question the economic benefits of the project. They also argue that solar power is a better alternative to gas.

While Kinder Morgan has thrown in the towel, Sabal Trail seems determined to hold fast, despite what is working out to be a situation in three states that suggests American landowners feel the balance between their rights to property, and big business may be shifting in the latter’s favor too far and too fast. By Irina Slav,

Is the oil rally maxed out? Read…  Positions Hit “Bullish Extremes,” Risk Getting Undone

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  35 comments for “Gas Pipeline Uses 160 Eminent Domain Suits To Get People’s Property In 3 States

  1. P Walker says:

    Is it me, or is the use of eminent domain basically nothing but a government subsidy when you think about it? Getting property at some reduced cost?

    More proof the government exists to make the elite wealthier.

    • Claud Brahman says:

      Eminent Domain is the Constitutional guarantee that landowners get the fair market value of their property when it is found to be used for a public purpose, perhaps for allowing a interstate common carrier to deliver gas to a state and its residents, such as those in Florida. Eminent Domain was added to the Constitution in response to times, especially during the Revolutionary War when, in the public interest, the army had to be moved from point to point, often across or along private property. Colonist were not compensated and therefore the inclusion of Eminent Domain in the Constitution to guarantee just compensation determined by one or more appraisals provided by the acquiring entity and also by the landowner. For more information on Eminent Domain see how it is explained by the Texas Attorney General at:

  2. Petunia says:

    Next Era(FPL) owns the state politicians, they get whatever they want in Florida. They are also big advertisers and don’t get much push back from the press. Count on them getting all the eminent domain they want.

  3. Bigfoot says:

    I lived near Orlando for 45 years. I worked for somebody that went through an eminent domain ‘seizure’ on 10 acres of ag land. It was for the extension of the Expressway system. It was a messy ordeal & quite stressful for my employer. The initial offer was ridiculous so they had to lawyer up & fight it out. They eventually got made whole but it took a few years. They would have struggled without some outside funding through this time period.

    On another note regarding the expressway system in Orlando. When the first 14 mile leg was opened, the toll was ten cents. The local government sold this to the public by saying once the road was paid for it would be a free ride. I infrequently go back there & when I do I feel like I’m getting robbed because there are so many toll booths now. Who would have guessed that the politicians would have lied to their constituents? It never ends.

  4. nick kelly says:

    I live in British Columbia, Canada. It is fortunate that the basic infra- structure was built decades ago because today it couldn’t be done.
    There are opponents here on one basis or another to EVERYTHING: power lines, cell phone towers, dams, highways, bridges- did I mention pipelines?
    Thank God the railway legislation was written back when the country was being built or it would be shut down.
    We have a whole bunch of people here who expect a government check every month, without any idea where it’s supposed to come from.
    Re: eminent domain- it has to be available because things like pipelines and power lines aren’t 7-11 locations that can be plunked down wherever- the line HAS to take certain routes because, obviously, it HAS to be connected to the rest of the line.
    However- the land owner should always receive a good price for both the land rendered unusable for him and any detriment to the rest of his property. Maybe this should be statutory to take it as far as possible out of the hands of companies.

  5. Rick says:

    We have decided (I was not in favor) in this country that coal should be made illegal. Coal was transported easily by rail and truck to power plants.
    Natural gas has to be brought to the plants by pipeline. That’s just the way it is if we are to have power to keep the lights on. Nukes aren’t being built and solar and won’t get the job done.

  6. Tom Belstler says:

    Gas pipelines are not seizures of land per se but are restrictions on what the landowner may do with the property. All the pipeline company wants is the right to bury a pipeline about 30 to 50 inches underground and a 30 foot wide swath, once construction is done, on which use will be restricted. In addition, the pipeline owner will want to be able to limit the growth of vegetation and trees in that 30 foot path and will reserve the right, after duly notifying the property owner, to do whatever maintenance it deems necessary. The vast majority of the time, the landowner, unless someone takes him or her to the pipeline site does not realize the pipeline exists.

    When I lived in CT, there was a decades long struggle to extend a gas pipeline from the MA border to Long Island sound. A 300 foot long section was to run through a remote corner of the property of a very wealthy nationally known personality who was convinced by the environmentalists to join their cause. When the Supreme Court made its final ruling in favor of the pipeline company and it was finally built, the operator asked the property owner if they could show her the section of pipeline that ran through her property. She was curious enough to take a look and was shocked by what she saw. It was just a 30 foot wide path that had been cleared of trees and was now overgrown with the usual ground cover one finds in open woodland. She said that he had not realized that the impact on her land would be so minimal having been convinced by the environmental groups that it would destroy all the vegetation and poison the wildlife in a large area around the right of way.

  7. Bigfoot says:

    Tom – I guess there would be some kind of fine line between seizure of the property & having a restricted use. Either way you are still being deprived of full usage of your land & privacy due to the easement. I wonder what the code or setback requirements are pertaining to the proximity of a NG pipeline to a residence? I also wonder how this would be affecting the eminent domain proceedings in question ?

    • Tom Belstler says:

      I agree that easements restrict the owner’s rights to use the property as he sees fit to some degree. The idea is to minimize the inconvenience and retain as much control as possible. Many people do not realize that if one lives anywhere except in very rural areas governments and utilities already have blanket easements on their property for various purposes. I live in a development that is outside the town limits and so falls under the jurisdiction of the county. I have underground utilities so the water, gas, electric and cable companies all have easements of some kind on my property to which I had to agree in order to purchase the house. If the neighbor’s house catches on fire and the fire department decided they should park some of their equipment on my property in order to best fight the fire, I wouldn’t have much luck if I asked them to please move it off my lawn. I could put in a claim to the county for damages to the lawn but that would be the extent of it and I’m not sure that I would get any money from them for that.

      The other thing I wish to point out is that in order to run an industrialized economy, some amount of infringement on some but not all property owners is necessary.

      The best way to protect oneself if an easement on your property is inevitable is to have a well thought out and comprehensive easement agreement with whoever wants the easement.

      Here is a link to a document that lists some but by no means all the points to consider when sitting down with the company that does the agreements for whoever wants the easement.


      When I worked for the utility company, although I was never involved in easement negotiations, because I dealt with members of the public on certain matters the company gave me a quick course on easements. What they told me was that they would agree to any reasonable request by the homeowner. No, they would not install an inground pool in their backyard or build them a 3 car garage but they would seriously consider improving the access road to the easement if it ran on their driveway and ensuring that the road was restored to good condition if they had to move heavy construction equipment on the road. They, if asked, advised property owners to take plenty of pictures of things likely to be damaged in some way before work began.

  8. nick kelly says:

    So to sum up, the comments so far oppose the premise of the author and believe instead that eminent domain can be abused but is by and large an essential part of a modern infrastructure on which we all depend.

  9. night-train says:

    The next issue to consider is the safety of the pipelines and how they are inspected and maintained. The Federal government and most state governments have cut personnel since 2008. How well are our pipelines being inspected? Do we have enough inspectors for the scope of the job?
    How well are the operators maintaining the pipelines?

    Indeed, we must live with pipelines. But, we should demand that they are properly inspected and maintained.

    • Bigfoot says:

      Here’s a link to SAE regarding our total infrastructure. You can check out individual sectors & states. Collectively we’re falling apart as the major parts of our systems were installed decades ago & haven’t been maintained properly. I think your concerns are well founded.

  10. Nicko says:

    This is sunny Florida, why aren’t they investing in solar and wind?

    • Bigfoot says:

      We have over 1,300 miles of coastline here in Fl. Only Alaska has more. Our overall wind-speed is on the low side of the spectrum but we have immense amounts of sunshine. With the wind, sun, & water we should be a leader in renewable energy. Long & short of it, nobody wants these structures in their backyard.

      • Thomas Belstler says:

        Neither solar nor wind can be used to supply base load from a grid operation point of view. It has to be backed up MW for MW and so raises the cost of electricity because of all the equipment that is on standby status and thus earning no money but has to be paid for in the rate base. There are other problems associated with these two power sources, especially with wind. Insolation can be forecast fairly reliably and follows the load curve fairly well but wind is very problematic.

        • Bigfoot says:


          What about the ocean? Tides are consistent & I have seen various methods of generating power from the wave action for a good number of years. It’s not something I follow or have a great deal of knowledge about. Might the ocean fill in the gaps created by solar & wind? Got any good links that discuss the latest technologies in regards to power generation, transmission, & storage? I know a great deal of the power is lost in generation alone. I’ve always wondered about the various methods that could be used to transform/transfer excess generated power (solar?) into another form that could be utilized when the sun goes down. Years back, I bought Michael Peaveys’ book on hydrogen & did some experimenting with a small DC powered hydrogen generator. Hydrogen seems promising.

          I don’t want to keep blasting you with questions so if you have any good links or book recommendations, that would be great. Thanks again

        • Sheila Washington says:

          Trying to reach Thomas Belstler directly.


      • Petunia says:

        Jeb, coming from a family in the oil business, had a cozy relationship with the utilities and pretty much outlawed solar power in the state. It was mainly done by restricting it through HOA’s. Most houses in the state are controlled by an HOA and they made it impossible for homeowners to install solar power. I understand that the courts may have overturned the right of the HOA’s to continue the policy. In the last year I saw some bus stops with solar panels and street signs as well.

        • Nicko says:

          A good sign. Solar has fallen in price so much, it should be everywhere.

        • robt says:

          Homeowners’ solar power is a racket. Unless you pay cash, they put a lien on your property that you must clear if you sell, or the new owner must assume the lease, which impairs the property. At the end of the term, your solar cells need replacing. Meanwhile, all the cash flow you’re supposed to get back from the utility is often negligible.
          The government rebate? The solar cell company gets it because technically they’re the owners of the installation.
          Just Google for reviews.

  11. Ptb says:

    I knew someone in down town San Diego that was well compensated for his property but he still did not want to sell it. The kicker was that they allowed Marriott to build a condo/hotel there as a kind of “area improvement”. His building was in great condition and had nothing wrong with it. Pure political corruption.

    • Tom Belstler says:

      There is the very famous case of the City of New London CT vs Kelo which is cited here:

      Please note that the City spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer’s money in legal fees to win its case in the Supreme Court and also note also that they did it because Pfizer said that they wanted the site for a new plant. Also note that Pfizer had never made a firm commitment and ultimately walked away from the deal. I always considered this to be a clear abuse of eminent domain. They should have said to Pfizer “you want us to take the land from the property owners? Put 50% of the estimated construction costs in an escrow account which will be refunded to you in stages the plant as milestones are reached in the construction of the plant but it will be forfeited and distributed to the landowners whose property we took if you fail to honor your promise to build”

      I once rented a house from some people that owned the top of one of the highest hills in the town. The city decided that it wanted to build a grade school on top of that hill and took part their land by eminent domain to do it despite having many other suitable parcels of land available including one at the bottom of the very same hill.

  12. LG says:

    The United States of Corporations strike again! Business as usual.

  13. AC says:

    Hope they like the continuous sabotage problem they will have.

    It would be fitting if the second civil war starts with a conflict between corporate security forces and the People.

  14. r cohn says:

    There is a very contentious issue concerning the “Pilgrim Pipeline” project located about 1 mile from my house.It consists of 2 pipelines side by side,one a crude oil pipeline,the other refined oil products .It would start near Albany NY and end at the Bayway refinery in Linden NJ.The pipeline would have to traverse the “Highlands” which is the watershed area of North western NJ and the source for many town’s water supply Unlike natural gas pipelines which require Federal approval,oil pipelines involve state approvals.Even though it is a grey area of the law whether local communities need to approve the pipeline decision ,every town on the proposed route in northern and northwestern NJ has approved resolutions condemming the project, which would pump about 17 million gallons of oil and products /day .The risks for oil pipelines are different than those involving natural gas pipelines in that even a small oil spill would seep into the ground with the potential of polluting the water supply.The pipeline company asked permission from the local utility,PSEG ,to use its right of way.The utility turned them down.
    This is the first chapter in what could be a bloody fight.

    • Claud Brahman says:

      What you are speaking of is a threat to the environment related to a pipeline construction, not to be confused with the arguments related to the issues covered by Eminent Domain to determine the fair value of a citizen’s property.

  15. Thomas Belstler says:

    To Bigfoot – Your post does not have a reply button so I have to take this route. I can recommend books by Vaclav Smil who has written extensively on the world’s energy issues and has a large number of books that cover the subject from the beginners level on up. I have personally read many of them and find him very knowledgeable and scientifically accurate. Here is a link to his bona fides and books in Amazon:

    I get much of my current information by rooting around on the internet. I am retired and so have lots of time to indulge in my favorite pastime, filling my brain with information about all kinds of subjects.

    Please feel free to ask any question that occur to you, if they are out of realm of knowledge I will say so.

    My main area of expertise is the bulk power system. I worked in bulk power generation and distribution for 37 years and was fortunate to have been exposed to many different areas including coal, oil, nuclear, hydro (both run of river and pumped storage) generation and all facets of bulk power system operations.

    I have also had a lifelong interest in Astronomy.

    • Bigfoot says:

      Thanks again Thomas. There’s so many things I have an interest in, I would need a substantial number of lifetimes to feel ‘up to speed’. I’ve never understood people who always say they are bored

      Enjoy the day!.

    • Sheila Washington says:

      How can I contact you directly

  16. Chicken says:

    Whatever happened to the proposed EU tax on aircraft CO2 emissions, why was that scrubbed?

    Think of it this way, if we can shut down the economy and destroy any semblance of economic opportunity, we will have succeeded rescuing the planet for big banks and special interest groups to rein supreme by buying up all the stuff we hate on, for pennies on the dollar.

    Trade the dip I guess, and ride it back up when people decide they don’t enjoy freezing their butts off during winter. Oh, and embrace higher tolls on your roads b/c the state was forced to sell to private interests due to lack of sufficient tax base, Chinese buggy whips don’t generate much cash flow ya’ know.

    Besides, Florida shouldn’t be inhabited anyway, it should be converted back into the wildlife habitat it used to be until it was ruined by development.

    • Bigfoot says:

      Hey Chicken, I hear ya cluckin

      Carbon tax, trading carbon credits – just another way for the ‘machine’ to extract more money. From my perspective, the ‘machine’ (dot gov, banking, big corp) are the ones willing to destroy the planet for an extra dime. Unfortunately, at 7+ billion people, resources are needed & the vast majority of the developed world will never take a step backward in their comfort levels or modern lifestyles. As a society, we collectively condone the pillage. At some point, mother nature probably throws up (Yellowstone?) or we get a nuke storm either intentional or otherwise. The best way to change the world is to change yourself.

      Ever hear about the nuclear bomb that was accidentally dropped over/into South Carolina in 1958? Here’s a link.

      As badly as mankind has injured the earthship, I have always wondered what the actual carrying capacity is.

      So Florida shouldn’t be inhabited anyway ? Guess what, that’s just what the .001% ers think about wherever it is you live. As far as Florida being ruined by development, sure, it’s been damaged like every other populated area on the planet but she’s not down for the count yet. I do miss the 60’s & 70’s Florida I grew up with. Don’t worry, I’m sure there are plans afoot to depopulate the world. Enjoy your time on the planet as much as possible!

  17. Thomas Belstler says:

    I don’t think there is a way to do that without making the information public on this blog and I am very reluctant to do that. If Mr Richter, who has access to my email address is willing to forward your email address to me I would be fine with that but it puts him into the unfortunate position of being the go between, at least once, a position in which he may not wish to place himself for perfectly valid reasons.

    Some sites allow private messages to be sent via email which one accesses by clicking on the person’s name. The sender’s user name is revealed in the email header so one knows who they are dealing with before opening the message and can just delete it if they do not wish to deal with the sender. This does not guarantee safety by any means but it ensures that the message can be examined by one of the software packages I run to protect my system. I am sorry that it has to be this way but with the amount and variety of malicious software running around, one has to be very careful. Not that I would ascribe any malicious intent to you but I have no idea if your machine has not been hijacked and is being used by someone else for their own purposes. One of the requirements for being hired in the IT department of the dispatch centers that I worked for was that one had a very wide streak of paranoia about being hacked. Not being an IT person I always thought this was overkill but lately I read more and more articles about power plants and entire systems being hijacked so I have come to the conclusion that their streak of paranoia was not misplaced.

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