August 12 -- The company planning to run a natural gas pipeline through parts of Carbon County is considering stopping property condemnation lawsuits this week against 70 property owners that would have given it right of way access to the land.
PennEast Pipeline Company had filed the lawsuits against the private property owners in U.S. Middle District Court.
“PennEast is exploring with attorneys representing landowners the idea of dismissing the actions without prejudice and restarting legal proceedings once it clears regulatory hurdles and has a better understanding of when it would need to acquire the property interests,” PennEast spokesperson Patricia Kornick said.
Hershey-based attorney Anthony Corby represented 18 of the 70 landowners.
“At least three of those property owners are in Carbon County,” Corby said. “My clients are very happy. There are still a few loose ends to tie up, such as compensation to landowners for the interim use of their property, if any, such as rent, delay damages, and up to $4,000 in professional fees.”
The 116-mile pipeline is proposed to run from Luzerne County to Mercer County, New Jersey. It had split the project in two phases, with the first including 68 miles of pipe and the portion running through Carbon and Monroe counties, entirely within Pennsylvania.
One of the local homeowners impacted by Monday’s decision is Linda Christman, who leads the pipeline opposition group Save Carbon County.
“On behalf of the landowners impacted by this pipeline, we are overjoyed at the news that PennEast will be withdrawing their eminent domain actions against us and that this cloud is lifted,” Christman said. “We have waited for this news for seven long years.”
While those who oppose the pipeline are considering the move a victory, Kornick termed it “procedural.”
“The PennEast Pipeline Project is critical in meeting the energy needs of the United States, and particularly, southeastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey,” Kornick said “It also is critical to helping ensure energy remains affordable and reliable as we transition our supplies to lower-carbon sources; however, given the uncertainty on timing to resolve the remaining legal and regulatory hurdles, PennEast believes it is not prudent to complete the acquisition of the rights of way in the pending actions in Pennsylvania, as it might not be necessary for some time.”
PennEast’s decision comes on the heels of a major court victory in New Jersey in late June. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of PennEast in its quest to acquire state-owned property in New Jersey for a multistate natural gas pipeline project.
The decision overturns a federal appeals court ruling in 2019 that the company couldn’t use eminent domain to acquire 42 properties that are owned by New Jersey and preserved for farmland or open space.
“It is very surprising that they have chosen to dismiss these actions after that decision,” Corby said. “Additionally, there is a pending case before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals which involves whether the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission does an adequate job of deciding whether these types of pipelines are necessary.”