When Harrison County Farm Bureau members Carol Teter and John Lovejoy bought their 160-acre farm in eastern Ohio in 2001, they were looking for a quiet place to raise a few animals and live out the second half of their lives.
What the couple didn’t anticipate was having to defend their property rights in court and fight against eminent domain in their own backyard.
“The oil and gas land rush started in this area about five years ago,” Lovejoy said, noting that various companies had approached the couple about 13 different pipeline projects that would run through their property.
Ohio Farm Bureau’s informative workshops helped educate the couple and other landowners statewide about their property rights.
“We’re so pleased with all of Farm Bureau’s work on this. It’s been so helpful,” Teter said. The couple said they appreciate that Ohio Farm Bureau’s Dale Arnold, director of energy, utility and local government policy, has helped give the issue a voice with state representatives.
Years ago, Lovejoy and Teter negotiated with a company on a new pipeline that now runs across their property (another was there previously), but the pipeline’s installation was so disruptive that they decided they didn’t want to go through that again.
Sunoco Pipeline Co. approached the couple about two years ago and were persistent, Lovejoy said. When he and Teter said they didn’t want the pipeline to cross their property, that’s when the legal process started and how they ended up in court last fall.
Their long-time attorney Nicholas Andersen said there are very distinct differences between the use of eminent domain for public use and what Sunoco is proposing for its 3,000-foot pipeline under Teter and Lovejoy’s property.
He said what Sunoco proposed running through the pipeline is “pure propane and pure butane,” neither of which, Andersen argues, would fall under the definition of a fuel destined for a public use. It’s one of several arguments they used in court.
“They’re throwing around the term eminent domain like it’s nothing,” Teter said. “We’re probably one of the first to challenge this.”
Despite their arguments and testimony from experts, the property owners lost their court case in December and have appealed the decision. Oral arguments begin in June, and Andersen expects a decision on the appeal sometime in July.
Ohio Farm Bureau recently filed a friend of the court brief with the couple’s appeal, citing concern about the issues of public use and property rights.
“Eminent domain is always a top concern for our members, and it was important to take this opportunity to defend private property rights by directly providing the court our broad perspective of this issue,” said Leah Curtis, OFBF’s director of agricultural law.
OFBF’s brief is an important document at this stage of legal proceedings, said Andersen, a Franklin County Farm Bureau member.
“Farm Bureau understands this is an important issue,” he said. “It’s an important issue that has far reaching implications.”
Lovejoy said he and Teter plan to “see this through to the end.”
Land dug up for a pipeline is still bare despite the couple’s efforts to reseed it.
Below is a letter written to OFBFs Dale Arnold:
April 3, 2016
The amicus curiae brief written by the Bureau’s attorneys in support of our case against Sunoco’s eminent domain argument was expertly crafted. It is difficult to find the right words to thank you and them sufficiently for a job well done! It will be of immense help when our case is heard by the Seventh District Court of Appeals. We have always been proud to be members of the Farm Bureau but that pride has been lifted to a new and higher level. Thank you so very much.
Carol Teter and John Lovejoy
Legal with Leah
Who can take your property and under what circumstances? Ohio Farm Bureau’s Leah Curtis explains the ins and outs of the power of eminent domain on “Legal with Leah.” Legal with Leah is part of Ohio Farm Bureau’s online Ohio Landowner Toolkit. Ohio Farm Bureau works to provide landowners with the information to help manage their property and to stay up to date on rural issues.