Why You Shouldn't Accept an Easement for the Palmetto Pipeline

May 11, 2015 | Charles Bowen

Question

Why shouldn’t landowners accept an easement for the Palmetto Pipeline?

Answer

You have the legal right to use and protect your property. While eminent domain may be ultimately granted for projects deemed necessary for public convenience, you have no obligation to provide access or accept easements from private companies until mandated by state authorities.


Personal Property

Real estate is one of the most valuable assets in which individuals can invest. Property owners have the right to use and protect their land as they see fit, and have final say about who is allowed to come onto their land and what they are allowed to do there. If permanent easements are granted to private companies like Kinder Morgan for projects such as the proposed Palmetto Pipeline, swaths of land ranging from 50-100 feet will no longer be usable by the property owners. No buildings or planting can take place on that land and the easement holder would have permanent access to survey, construct and maintain the pipeline. Further, while owners would be offered a one-time payment for the easement (which qualifies and income upon which taxes must be paid), they would still be required to pay property taxes on that land each year. If sold in the future, potential buyers will likely demand the value be adjusted accordingly.


Public Purpose

Georgia Department of TransportationOn February 13, 2015, Kinder Morgan applied for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity to the Georgia Department of Transportation, which if approved, will authorize it to condemn property from private citizens. This decision is in the hands of GDOT Commissioner Russell McMurray and is to be made no later than May 19. Last week, Georgia's top elected officials Gov. Nathan Deal and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle both stated their opposition to the project. The final public meeting was held in Waynesboro on Thursday with hundred in attendance, mostly in opposition of the pipeline. 

The Fifth Amendment states that private property shall not be taken for public use without just compensation. In the past ten years, massive restructuring of the eminent domain rules to protect owners has occurred in 47 states. In June 2006, Executive Order 13406 was issued by President George W. Bush, stating: “It is the policy of the United States to protect the rights of Americans to their private property, including by limiting the taking of private property by the Federal Government to situations in which the taking is for public use, with just compensation, and for the purpose of benefiting the general public and not merely for the purpose of advancing the economic interest of private parties to be given ownership or use of the property taken.” However, it is the right of the states to make their own decisions about what qualifies as public use.

In April 2006, Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue signed House Bill 1313 into law. This legislation significantly tightened the definition of “blight” in the State’s eminent domain laws. But the law also stated that economic development is not a “public use” that justifies the use of eminent domain.

Kinder Morgan has yet to prove that the pipeline will meet the requirements of public convenience and necessity. The energy company has made claims that the pipeline would increase competition among suppliers and possibly lower prices to end consumers, create jobs and revenue for the state, and provide an alternative fuel source for the region. Each of these claims have been staunchly criticized by local legislators due to the lack of transparency, environmental groups, local competitors and many property owners and residents.


Environmental Concerns

Savannah RiverOver 58% of the proposed pipeline (210 of the 360 miles) and environmental exposure would be in Georgia, spanning 12 counties. The proposed path crosses private and public land including pine plantations, watersheds of five major rivers and freshwater coastal wetlands, and the Revolutionary War battle site at Brier Creek in Screvern County where an estimated 150 Americans died and are still buried.

Not only will the construction of the pipeline impact these natural and historically significant areas, but in the case of an accident in which the working pipeline is damaged, drinking water, wells and bodies of water could be contaminated or suffer irreparable damage.


How to Refuse

You may be contacted by a Kinder Morgan surveyor seeking permission to look around your property. Surveyors may be aggressive and insistent upon getting your signature on their documents. You do not have to sign anything. If you refuse their request and they do not leave your premises, or persist in harassing you, call the police. Three surveyors are currently facing criminal trespassing charges in Screven County after ignoring the owner's request that they not enter the property. You can also rescind any permission you may have already granted the surveyors to come onto your property by sending a certified mail, return receipt registered letter to:

Kinder Morgan, 1001 Louisiana St, Suite 1000, Houston, TX 77002, with the following information:

Date:_________

Re: Rescinding property access

As the owner of the property located at ______, I am rescinding permission previously granted to the Kinder Morgan Company, its representatives, contractors, sub-contractors or associates, to enter my land to perform surveys, or for any other purpose.

Any physical entry onto my property from the date of this letter forward will be considered unauthorized, and treated as trespass.

(Your signature)

If your property is ultimately condemned, the Georgia Constitution requires that you be appropriately compensated. If you are not satisfied with the amount, you may file an appeal with the Superior Court asking for a jury trial to determine whether the planned use of the property is for a public use and/or whether the condemnor has the legal authority to exercise the power of eminent domain.

For more information, please review an article I recently published: “How to Stop the Palmetto Pipeline From Going Through Your Backyard.


Palmetto Pipeline Overview

Houston, TX-based Kinder Morgan Inc, the largest energy infrastructure company in North America, has proposed a $1 billion pipeline project which will allow the company to offer a new service to move refined petroleum products including gasoline, ethanol and diesel FROM: Baton Rouge, LA, Collins and Pascagoula, MS and Belton, SC TO: North Augusta, SC, Savannah, GA and Jacksonville, FL via 16-inch and 20-inch diameter pipelines. The system will have a design capacity of up to 167,000 barrels per day and will consist of a segment of expansion capacity that Palmetto will lease from Plantation Pipe Line Company between Baton Rouge, LA and Belton, SC. A new 360-mile pipeline from Belton, SC to Jacksonville, FL will also be constructed as part of the system as will at least one gas terminal in Richmond Hill, GA and 3.8 million cubic feet of “breakout tankage.”

The pipeline project would cross the Savannah River just downstream from Augusta and pass through the following 12 Georgia counties:

  • Kinder Morgan: proposed Palmetto Pipeline project

    Richmond, 2 miles

  • Burke, 25 miles

  • Screven, 34 miles

  • Effingham, 39 miles

  • Chatham, 12 miles

  • Bryan, 7 miles

  • Liberty, 18 miles

  • Long, 2 miles

  • McIntosh, 17 miles

  • Glynn, 24 miles

  • Camden, 18 miles

  • Charlton, 12 miles

The pipeline would cross into Florida at the U.S. 1 bridge over the St. Marys River. The project is planned to be completed by 2017.

For more information on how the proposed Palmetto Pipeline may affect Georgians including potential benefits, negative impact and criticism as well as the practice of eminent domain and the approval process, please read our post from earlier this year: “Palmetto Pipeline Raises Questions of Eminent Domain in Savannah, GA.”


Bottom Line

Even if you are in support of the Palmetto Pipeline, if your property lies in its proposed path, you do not have to grant Kinder Morgan representatives access to your land or agree to a permanent easement at this time.

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Topics: Commercial Law in Georgia