Commissioners discuss pipeline eminent domain

PrivatePropertysmDuring its meeting last Tuesday evening, the Pocahontas County Commission answered questions about the use of eminent domain to build a natural gas pipeline through northern Pocahontas County. Eminent domain is the use of government power to take property from a landowner without his or her consent, but with monetary compensation.

A coalition of major energy corporations, including Dominion Resources, Inc., plans to build a 42-inch pipeline across the northern end of the county. In Pocahontas County, the proposed pipeline path crosses National Forest land and approximately 28 parcels of private property. Dominion spokesmen have stated that the company will use eminent domain, if necessary, to build the pipeline.

Buckeye resident Alice Arbuckle asked the Commission to consider the company’s superior bargaining position when it decides to support or oppose the pipeline project.

“You’ve got to figure in the people that don’t want the pipeline across their property are going to be forced into eminent domain,” she said. “You need to consider that in your deliberations, when you answer FERC [Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] on this pipeline.”

The pipeline project requires FERC approval.

Commissioner David Fleming stated unequivocally his opposition to eminent domain.

“My feeling is that property rights are paramount here,” he said. “If there are landowners that the pipeline would cross in Pocahontas County, who want to work with Dominion and can find an agreement, then it would be no business of the county commission to get in the way. Likewise, if there’s a property owner who doesn’t want it and is facing the threat of eminent domain, I feel it would be the Commission’s responsibility to defend that property owner.”

Commissioner Jamie Walker said “every case is different,” with regard to eminent domain.

“Well, I agree,” he said. “Everybody ought to have their rights whether they want it or whether they don’t. But the only drawback to that, that I would see, is if there’s a very small proportion of the total amount – that’s going to cause more harm to go around than it would be to go through. I guess every case is different. I think everybody should have the right to do what they want on their own land, whether they’re for it or against it.”

“But the people that don’t want it are going to face eminent domain – and they’re going to lose,” said Arbuckle.

Pipeline opponent Lauren Ragland denounced eminent domain generally.

“Eminent domain is poison to most landowners,” she said. “The very idea that the government can take someone’s land for public use is horrific, let alone provide it to a private company.”

Ragland referred to a recent case in Kentucky, in which a Circuit Court ruled that an energy company could not use state law eminent domain to force construction of a pipeline to transport natural gas liquids (NGLs). The FERC does not provide federal eminent domain authority for NGL pipelines.

However, the FERC does provide federal eminent domain power to companies building approved interstate natural gas pipelines. Therefore, if FERC approves Dominion’s project, the company will have federal government power behind it when it negotiates with landowners to obtain property in West Virginia.

Dominion manager Robert Orndorff said the company will use that power, if necessary.

“We get our authority through the Natural Gas Act,” he said. “I’m not a legal scholar. This is a very legal subject, so I want to make sure that you’re aware, I’m not going to provide any legal advice. But we get our federal authority – once we get a certificate of necessity and need – that gives us the right to use eminent domain. Of course, I’ve said all along, that’s our last resort.”

Fleming requested that any Pocahontas County landowner who has received notice from Dominion contact the Commission or contact him personally.

“I certainly would like to hear from any landowners in Pocahontas County who have received notice and would like to talk to us about it,” he said. “If there are landowners who don’t want it, they should let us know. If there are [landowners] that do, they should let us know too, so that we can support property rights.”

The Commission phone number is 304-799-6063.

In other business Tuesday evening, the Commission:
– Met incoming Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Keith McMillion;
– Heard an update from Americorps VISTA Ned Savage on the Mountain Music Trail;
– Heard an update from Day Report Center Director Tammie Alderman;
– Approved a resolution in support of a grant request by Linwood Alive;
– Approved a grant request extension for a grant to purchase easements at Travelers’ Repose;
– Approved a letter in support of a Prevention Coalition grant request for a medication drop box.

See next week’s edition of The Pocahontas Times for a profile of new Assistant Prosecutor Keith McMillion.

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