This has been the year of misconception about negotiating with pipeline companies. It is no secret Pennsylvania in the past few years has become a hotbed for pipeline companies. Many Pennsylvania residents until a few years ago had never heard of the term “Eminent Domain.” They were not aware there was a concept in the law where a private pipeline company could forcibly come onto their property with condemnation power.
THE CREATORS OF THE CONFUSION
With the growth of the Marcellus Shale play and the related pipeline companies, came Easement Agreements, Land Men and attorneys (knowledgeable and not so knowledgeable) and several wonderful nonprofit organizations. Confused homeowners are bombarded with information from all parties, and all sides, each purporting to have experience with what a homeowner can and cannot do with regards to negotiating with these new invaders of the republic.
PROPERTY OWNERS LOST IN THE PROCESS
From the chaos of the fighting between Right of Way Agents (called Land Men) representing the pipeline companies, the attorneys, and the nonprofits, many homeowners report feeling they have become lost. Many feel they have been misguided and, more sadly, suffered terrible, irreparable and preventable changes to their property. This includes the loss of sound and visual buffers, as their trees were cut down and their stone walls, lawns, gardens, and landscaping are torn apart.
WHAT WE DO
We regularly negotiate Pipeline Easement Agreements for property owners – both commercial and residential. A key component in these negotiations has been to bypass the “whisper down the alley” approach used by many and to work directly with the decision maker as opposed to a mere outside agent. The approach of our firm is always, “what is best for the individual homeowner”.
We sit down with each individual property owner and list their individual concerns. We make sure our modifications to the proposed easement agreement by the pipeline company include and address each one of the homeowner’s concerns. In addition, we address technical legal issues which are critically important, but not often considered by property owners.
We do not believe in taking financial advantage of the homeowner during this difficult and confusing time. Our objective has always been and remains to shift the costs of the negotiation process. That means finalizing the easement and transferring the responsibility for attorney’s fees and costs associated therewith to the party that should rightfully incur the obligation, the pipeline company. After all, why should the property owner be penalized any further? It is not their fault that the pipeline chose their property for their pipeline?
THE GREAT MISCONCEPTIONS
That being said, let’s clarify something: THE EASEMENT AGREEMENTS OF THE PIPELINE COMPANIES ABSOLUTELY CAN BE MODIFIED and THE AMOUNT PROPOSED BY THE PIPELINE COMPANY ABSOLUTELY CAN BE NEGOTIATED. Remember the pipeline’s first offer is never their final offer. If you have been informed by anyone that you must accept the terms of the pipeline company as given and/or that the easement agreement cannot be negotiated, THIS IS ABSOLUTELY NOT TRUE. If you are told you must sign in 72 hours, that is also not true.
BUT I WANT TO FIGHT
What if you want to take a position fighting the pipeline? Should you just abandon any attempt at improving the terms of your own easement agreement? Of course not. Although we do not officially take either a favorable or negative stance on the construction of pipelines in Pennsylvania, we have had several clients negotiate and secure protections for their property, while continuing to take leading positions in the fight against the pipeline companies.
Pay attention to the Adelphia Gateway Pipeline. The Land Men suggest they only want a small correction to the easement. In truth they want the property owners to agree to a use (transportation of explosive gas) not permitted in the currently recorded easements.