Eminent domain "clarification" most certainly assists pipeline company

Regardless of Republican claims to the contrary:

By striking the phrase “originating in North Carolina” from the state’s eminent domain law, a bill approved by the North Carolina House could remove a key legal obstacle for the 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Otherwise, the words are “a significant stumbling block,” said eminent domain attorney Jason Campbell.

“I’m not looking for any expansion [of eminent domain authority] here,” said McGrady on the floor of the House. “I’ve heard the argument that we’re trying to promote fracking and promote a natural gas line. I’m just going to stand my ground and say ‘no.’ We’re just trying to clean the language up.”

It looks like BergerMoore is rubbing off on Chuck McGrady, a Republican for whom I have (up until now) held a modicum amount of respect. But I don't believe in coincidences, especially not when powerful corporate interests have hundreds of millions on the line. Lawyers for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline are already busy attacking landowners in court, and McGrady's "language-cleaning" efforts will very likely tip the scales in their favor:

But many say the legislation’s removal of the phrase is more than merely technical. And its introduction has helped spark debate in county courts, where the pipeline company has sued owners of 21 North Carolina properties, invoking eminent domain powers it may not actually have.

The pipeline’s power to use this clause vexes landowners like Francine Stephenson. “I am sickened that my land is possibly going to be taken through eminent domain for a purpose that I think is to line the pockets of shareholders of a private company,” she said.

After trying to persuade Blackman and other landowners to relent, Atlantic Coast Pipeline filed identical complaints against them, seeking court orders to compel landowners to “permit its agents to enter upon defendant’s property for the purposes set forth in NC. Gen. Stat 40A-11,” a reference to the provision of law that allows entities with eminent domain powers to survey land.

“Atlantic is vested with the power of eminent domain under N.C. Gen. Stat 40A-3 and 62-190(a), and it is authorized to exercise that power as may be necessary to serve the public,” read the company’s filings, most of which were made last year.

Yet 40A-3 contains the phrase that appears to undercut, not support, the pipeline’s case. The private entities that can use eminent domain, called “condemnors,” include “pipelines or mains originating in North Carolina for the transportation of petroleum products, coal, gas limestone or minerals.”

Unless McGrady’s legislation, which strikes ”originating in North Carolina” from this section, becomes law, “there may not be legal basis for [the complaints], because Atlantic Coast Pipeline is not a condemnor under 40A-3 or 40A-11,” said Lollar.

Tim Wilson, a Rocky Mount attorney representing several Cumberland County landowners in land survey cases, drew a similar conclusion after McGrady introduced his bill.

“There is nothing in North Carolina General Statute 40A-11 or any other law of this State that permits Plaintiff to go onto her property, as Plaintiff has stated in its Complaint that the pipeline it seeks to build is not one ‘originating in North Carolina,’” Wilson claimed in a Feb. 1 motion to dismiss a complaint against one of his clients.

As mentioned above, the emergence of this legislation at this particular time simply cannot be a coincidence. And we're not just talking about the loss of a narrow slice of people's property, we're talking about the substantial loss of property values, too:

In a survey of buyers presented with the prospect of buying an otherwise desirable home with a 36-inch diameter gas transmission line on the property, 62.2% stated that they would no longer buy
the property at any price. Of the remainder, half (18.9%) stated that they would still buy the property, but only at a price 21%, on average, below what would otherwise be the market price. The other 18.9% said the pipeline would have no effect on the price they would offer.

If one considers just those buyers who are still willing to purchase the property, the expected loss in market value would be 10.5%. This loss in value provides the mid-level impact in our estimates. A much greater loss (and higher estimates) would occur if one takes into account the fact that 62% of buyers are effectively reducing their offer prices by 100%, making the average reduction in offer price for all potential buyers
66.2%. In our estimates, however, we have used the smaller effect (-10.5%) based on the assumption that sellers will eventually find one of the buyers still willing to buy the pipeline-easement-encumbered property.

Based on five “impact studies” in which appraisals of smaller properties with and without pipelines were compared, the average impact [on value] due to the presence of a gas transmission pipeline is -11.6% (Kielisch, 2015, p. 11) The average rises to a range of -12% to -14% if larger parcels are considered, possibly due to the loss of subdivision capability.

Both FERC and ACP LLC have cited several studies purporting to show that natural gas pipelines (and in one case a liquid petroleum pipeline) have at most an ambiguous and non-permanent effect on property values. In its Final EIS regarding the Constitution Pipeline, for example, FERC cited two articles concluding, in brief, that effects on property value from the presence of a pipeline can be either positive or negative values due to a pipeline explosion diminishes over time (Hansen, Benson, & Hagen, 2006).

It's bad enough when a private corporation uses bent studies to back up their "lack of harm" to citizens, but when a government agency (FERC) uses these biased models, it becomes something much worse. And the absurdity surrounding the nature of their recent "public comment" gathering, where they took people out of the room one by one and interviewed them in what could have only felt like an interrogation room, is simply unbelievable. But they did it.

Again, the stunning silence by the supposed "property rights" advocates at JLF and Civitas is deafening.

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