Eminent domain power remains unclear

The question of whether or not a “finished natural gas” or liquified gas pipeline can use the power of eminent domain to legally seize property in the state of Ohio remains unclear.

Ohio Farm Bureau had filed a legal brief in support of Harrison County Farm Bureau members and landowners Carol Teter and John Lovejoy arguing that the Sunoco Pipeline Company did not have authority through eminent domain to construct a pipeline through the couple’s property.

Before the case was to be heard by the Ohio Supreme Court, the pipeline company rerouted the project away from the Teter/Lovejoy property and moved that the case be dismissed.

OFBF Policy Counsel Leah Curtis said Farm Bureau was still arguing to have the case heard by the Supreme Court to give landowners throughout Ohio clarity on whether or not these kinds of finished product natural gas pipelines can use the power of eminent domain. While it is clear under the law that certain pipelines can use eminent domain, for example federal pipelines carrying natural gas and regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, in other cases the law has been very unclear.

“We wanted the court to consider how eminent domain power should be used when a private company is going to lay pipeline to transport products like butane or ethane for private use — to an industrial complex, for example — and not delivering gas into people’s homes,” Curtis said. However, because the pipeline was rerouted, the court dismissed the case leaving this question unanswered.

“There will continue to be uncertainty as companies approach landowners about running pipelines through their property,” said Curtis, who encourages property owners to ask about the type of pipeline a company wants access to their property for and to use Farm Bureau as a resource to help with questions about pipeline contracts.

Curtis said even though eminent domain uncertainty remains in some cases, there is cause for hope.

“There are mixed opinions on this issue from two different lower courts,” she said. “So even though this particular case was dismissed, the issue is far from settled. Landowners can consider a challenge to a company when it asserts eminent domain power for these types of pipelines.”

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