Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Texas towns sue over right to block gas pipeline eminent domain

DALLAS, Texas - Two local municipalities are seeking to protect their right to block natural gas companies use of eminent domain to construct pipelines across public property in the Barnett Shale.
"This will be a landmark decision in Texas," said Tom Hayden, a member of the Flower Mound Town Council. "It will decide whether a municipality trumps a utility or vice versa."
Both Flower Mound and Haltom City have been sued because they have failed to approve requests to run gas pipelines on municipal property.
In Flower Mound, Mockingbird Pipeline wants to run 500 feet of pipe through a 30-foot pipeline easement behind a fire station.
In Haltom City, Enterprise Texas Pipeline LLC wants to transport processed
gas to market by running a pipeline through the city, cutting across
parkland, several streets and acreage that may be a future nature area.
Haltom City Attorney Steven Wood said a pipeline would restrict use of the
public land. "You can't build on top of a pipeline," he said. "And you can't
imagine how many trees they'd have to tear down to get that pipeline in."
While the power of eminent domain is usually associated with government
bodies, other entities - such as electric and telephone companies - have
also been granted this authority because they provide a service for the
In Texas, many pipeline companies are considered public utilities with
eminent domain power. Of the 34 pipeline companies in the Texas Pipeline
Association, more than half are public utilities and all have some public
utility assets, said executive director Patrick Nugent.
While condemnation lawsuits involving private property owners are not
uncommon, "I'm not familiar with any litigation filed between a pipeline and
a municipality," said Nugent.
For municipalities, the legal battle is over sovereign immunity and the
right to protect public property from unwanted encroachment.

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