Sep 19 2008

1st Court Decision

1st Court Decision on September 19 — Smaller Eminent Domain Case

Spectra Energy has filed not one, not two, but three legal actions against property owners. This is all part of its CEO’s commitment to build “mutually beneficial relationships.” [See link on “Transparency.”]

Judge Kim R. Gibson of the US District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania (Johnstown, PA) ruled on access to surface rights on five properties.

To avoid any confusion, this is not the “big” eminent domain case (which is the second legal action filed by Spectra Energy against property owners). We’re still waiting for that case to move through the system.

On Sept. 19, 2008, the judge granted Spectra Energy the right to take “immediate possession of and entry onto the [five] properties owned by the Defendants.”

The irony, as property owners can attest, is that Spectra Energy was already doing construction work on these properties. Apparently, they were not afraid of offending the court prior to its decision.

A pdf of the judge’s 36-page memorandum is attached. The short path through it is to read the summary (pp. 27-36).

The “Irreparable Harm to Steckman” section (p. 30 of document; p. 32 of pdf) may be the most interesting because attorneys have told me that it is essential to establish “irreparable harm” in an eminent domain case.

Judge Gibson’s decision, however, appears to hinge on financial harm to Spectra Energy because the company won’t meet its commercial deadlines for making money by selling gas storage to customers.

Since when is it the “public’s” responsibility to ensure a company’s commercial success. (At least until the latest taxpayer bailout package.)

Judge Gibson’s thoughts on “harm to Steckman” run 3 pages while the “harm to defendants” is brushed away in less than a page (p. 33 of document; p. 35 of pdf).
In the section titled, “Public Interest,” Judge Gibson emphasizes supplying gas for the “heating season,” as if there is presently no gas for the heating season:

“The Court finds that timely completion of the natural gas storage facility will assist to a reasonably significant degree in ensuring an adequate supply of natural gas for the public during the 2009-2010 heating season (November 2009-March 2010). Failure to complete this project could have an adverse effect on the supply of natural gas for the public or could adversely impact natural gas prices.” (p. 34 of document; p. 36 of pdf)

A significant assertion, yet it offers no facts in support of it – other than to cite three platitudes from FERC, which again offer no facts about an alleged heating season crisis or price stability. Amazing. [For the facts on underground natural gas storage sites already in Pennsylvania, see the link on “Gas Storage.”]

Reference: Steckman Ridge Project, Bedford County, PA
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Docket No. CP08-15-00
Memorandum Opinion Order of the court

FERC pre filing draft 6-29-07

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