Three areas of concern in pipeline easements and takings
The first concern relates to the issue at the top of most people’s minds when it comes to eminent domain: just compensation. The second has to do with what’s in the easement agreement, and the third is the location of the pipeline.
How do you know if your offer is fair?
It’s unlikely you’ll be able to prevent the pipeline company from taking part or all of your land, so you should focus on seeking maximum compensation. So how was the offer for your property calculated? You may never know, and here’s why.
Let’s imagine that Piedmont Natural Gas is running a new gas line five miles through Pitt County and they are coming through 50 properties. They will send letters to property owners to establish contact. They may or may not do an appraisal upfront – sometimes they do not.
They may, instead, find some comparable sales, do their own calculations, and make you an offer based on this information instead of visiting your property to appraise it. If they do a physical appraisal of your property, this appraisal can be from 50 to 100+ pages in length and filled with language you may not understand. Further, they may or may not offer you a copy of the appraisal.
It’s likely the wrong move to get your own appraisal. We urge property owners not to get an appraisal without first consulting an experienced eminent domain attorney. We have had many people call us who hurt their own cases by paying for an appraisal that came back lower than the condemning authority’s.
You may not be able to get your own appraisal even if you wanted to. Eminent domain appraisers tend to work consistently for the state or energy companies, not landowners. These agents can be hard to find and expensive, and some will simply refuse to work for individual property owners. That’s why we encourage you to get help from an experienced attorney who has the resources, contacts, and knowledge to determine what compensation is fair.
What does the easement agreement really say?
What a lot of people do not take into consideration is the language in the easement agreement. This language is very important because it dictates your rights on your property, and the rights of the pipeline company.
This language in these agreements can be vague and vague language often benefits big companies with lots of full-time lawyers. Sometimes the language is simply, “Put in one or more gas pipelines.” That leaves you at risk of severe impact indefinitely, so you want to include language that limits what the company can do in the easement area.
Easement agreement language, like compensation, is something that may be negotiated. We have often been able to have both adjusted to our clients’ benefit.1
Where exactly will the pipeline be located?
Let’s say the gas company is running a natural gas pipeline through a large tract of vacant land you own. Someday, you might want to develop that land for a subdivision. If that happens, you might need a road or utilities that cross the easement area. You want to include in the easement agreement something to preserve your future rights.
There is some flexibility in the eminent domain process, and the condemning agency may be willing to adjust the project based on your needs. For example, we handled a case where the initial easement agreement proposed a pipeline cutting through the middle of our client’s land. This was going to restrict future property development. We presented this issue to the pipeline company and they agreed to have the pipeline run along the property line. The revised location helped preserve the value of the remaining property.1