Keeping directly impacted homeowners informed
Since FERC has rubber-stamped the PennEast proposal, many opponents, including HALT, are fighting back and will be requesting a rehearing of FERC’s unjust and improper Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity.
As we begin the process to challenge FERC’s certificate, PennEast started suing landowners by filing complaints in condemnation in three federal district courts today: one in New Jersey and two in Pennsylvania. Homeowners who are not selling easement rights to PennEast will be getting served with these papers. The process goes something like this:
- PennEast is currently filing the following papers in court: a notice of the complaint in condemnation and a variety of other papers, including an order to show cause (for the right to take the land and the right to obtain immediate access to it). There is a separate set of papers and distinct case number for each landowner.
- The court needs to set a return date for the order to show cause.
- Process servers will soon start trying to find landowners at home, work, or about town and will hand them these papers.
- Once a landowner is served, there is a set amount of time to answer the complaint and respond to the other papers. If a landowner does nothing, (s)he will still get paid what PennEast is offering for the easement at the time.
- Some landowners have retained an attorney to contest the fair market value that PennEast has included in their paperwork. Other landowners are also going to contest PennEast’s right to take their land.
If a landowner voluntarily signs an easement agreement with PennEast, then that easement will be attached to their deed “forever.” PennEast would then be able to use the easement, or sell it in the future, even if they don’t build this pipeline.
However, if an easement is ordered by a court, through eminent domain proceedings, then its use is restricted to this project. Legal advisers believe that not “settling” with PennEast is the best way to ensure that any court imposed
easement can be removed – if and when the pipeline is stopped.
FERC MAY HAVE RUBBER STAMPED PENNEAST’S APPLICATION – BUT THE REAL FIGHT HAS JUST BEGUN!
As expected, FERC rubber-stamped the application for the PennEast Pipeline by granting a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessityon January 19. HALT, an organization that represents both impacted homeowners and concerned citizens, will not stand idle as private property is threatened and our water, trees, and environment are endangered for an unneeded and harmful pipeline.
HALT will now intensify its legal fight and political efforts at both the federal and state levels. HALT will begin its legal efforts by requesting rehearing of FERC’s decision on grounds meant to help all impacted homeowners. We will be aided by the dissenting opinion of newly appointed FERC Commissioner Richard Glick, who stated, “I do not believe that the Commission’s order properly concludes that the PennEast Project is needed.” We agree. However, his view was over-ridden by the other 4 commissioners. HALT, along with our many allies, will challenge FERC’s decision on various grounds.
While HALT is challenging FERC’s decision at the federal level, it will be bolstering its efforts with other agencies. It is important for homeowners to remember that the pipeline still has to meet all of the regulatory requirements of other agencies before the project can be constructed. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC), and the United States Army Corp of Engineers (USACE) each have the power to stop this project. HALT will step-up its efforts to represent the concerns of homeowners with these agencies.
PennEast will use FERC’s Certificate to initiate eminent domain proceedings against scores of property owners. This will further mobilize the communities and homeowners along the proposed route who already strongly oppose the pipeline. PennEast’s goal will be to get on private property as quickly as possible, in order to survey it. However, their representatives need proper documentation of their legal authority to come onto people’s land. If the people working for PennEast do not have the required court orders, then they are trespassing and the police should be notified.
Many individual homeowners will be contesting the taking of their land through their own legal representation. HALT is committed to finding ways to support these individuals. Anne Marie Garti, who is representing HALT, will be attending our member meeting on Wednesday, January 31 at 7:30 pm at Prallsville Mills. Anne Marie is the attorney who helped homeowners defeat the Constitution Pipeline in New York State. Please join us!
HALT will continue to meet with decision-makers to present the real impacts of this project with the voice of the people who are directly impacted by their decisions. Now, we have an environmentally friendly and receptive governor to listen to our concerns.
The real fight has just begun!
The Hopewell Citizens Against the Pipeline have set up a Google group (e-mail list), where homeowners can share information with each other about how they are dealing with PennEast, eminent domain, and other issues. To be included, please send an email to email@example.com and request permission to join.
The US Senate has confirmed the nominations of FERC Commissioners McIntyre and Glick who will be seated within days. Based on historical behavior, FERC is likely to rubber stamp the approval of PennEast’s Certificate of Necessity and Convenience rather quickly. This has been expected and does not mean the pipeline is approved.
Shortly after the Certificate is issued, PennEast will begin its pressure to get on our property and will then request the right to take our property through eminent domain. This may all happen within weeks.
These actions have all been expected. This is what HALT and its many allies have been planning to deal with for months! As we’ve said, this is the time when the real fight begins!
PennEast cannot survey your land without the proper paperwork. If they don’t provide it when they attempt to come on your property notify the police immediately.
This pipeline will be stopped. We suggest that homeowners be vigilant in their continued opposition. We are available to assist in this matter. As things unfold quickly, we will keep you up-to-date.
NEW FILM by HALT and Marshall Creatives
OUR FURY & PASSION – HOMEOWNERS FIGHTING THE PENNEAST PIPELINE
HALT summarizes Homeowners’ two separate but interrelated legal actions:
(1) HALT’s action to Challenge the FERC Certificate and
(2) Individual homeowners’ action to Contest Eminent Domain.
HALT ACTION – CHALLENGING THE FERC CERTIFICATE
When FERC issues a certificate of public convenience and necessity to PennEast, HALT expects to challenge the validity of the certificate in a US Circuit Court of Appeals. While the exact nature of this lawsuit cannot be revealed now, what is important for homeowners to know is if PennEast is not built, HALT expects to ask that court-ordered easements be removed for landowners who have had their land taken through eminent domain proceedings.
HALT is asking impacted homeowners to become members of HALT since they will benefit from this litigation against FERC. If you are unsure as to your membership status or you are interested in becoming a HALT member by donating, please contact 609-483-5530. Your donation will go toward this litigation.
INDIVIDUAL HOMEOWNERS’ LEGAL ACTION – CONTESTING EMINENT DOMAIN
PennEast will gain the right of eminent domain to acquire easements on properties along the route after obtaining a certificate of public convenience and necessity from FERC. Some landowners are forming groups to contest PennEast’s right to take their land. This is something that only impacted landowners may pursue. HALT cannot do this for homeowners because it’s an issue of individual land being taken. This is a separate and different legal action than having individual legal representation in eminent domain court.
Several homeowners have formed into groups to make the cost of this litigation affordable. HALT cannot recommend attorneys, but as we become aware of the groups that are being formed, we will make that information available to our members. You can then meet and decide whether you wish to join them.
CONNECTION BETWEEN HALT CHALLENGING FERC’s CERTIFICATE & HOMEOWNERS CONTESTING PENNEAST’S EMINENT DOMAIN CASES
Although separate, the above two actions are interrelated. If PennEast is not built, HALT intends to ask that court-ordered easements be removed for landowners who have their land taken through eminent domain proceedings. In addition, landowners expect to contest PennEast’s right to take their land. Some landowners believe that the combination of these two actions will increase the likelihood of success.
SELLING EASEMENTS TO PENNEAST OUTSIDE OF COURT
If you choose to sell your easement to PennEast, instead of going through eminent domain proceedings, you may receive more than going through eminent domain. However, selling also means that PennEast owns the easement and can use it or sell it for other pipelines. We suggest you speak with real estate professionals to understand the immediate and longer-term impact of a natural gas pipeline easement on your property value. Selling also allows surveyors on your property sooner than if you go through eminent domain.
The news that we’ve all expected and yet hoped would be put off for as long as possible has occurred – FERC has two new Commissioners. In actuality, it happened later than most initially thought!
FERC NOMINEES ARE CONFRIMED AUG 3, 2017
On August 3, the Senate confirmed Trump’s two nominees to FERC, which restores its quorum and enables FERC to issue orders again. Since FERC always approves pipeline projects, we anticipate that PennEast will receive its certificate of public convenience and necessity in late August or early September. This will allow PennEast to start filing papers against landowners in order to take their land. However, even if FERC approves it, and even if PennEast takes land through eminent domain, the NJ Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) can still stop the project by denying a water quality certification that is required under section 401 of the Clean Water Act. We know this can be done because NY State stopped the Constitution Pipeline in April of 2016 by denying a 401 water quality certification.
The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) can also stop the PennEast project by denying a permit for the project. Its members include the governors of NJ, NY, PA and Del. and the Division Engineer of the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).
HALT expects to challenge FERC’s certificate in a US Circuit Court of Appeals. While we cannot reveal the exact nature of this lawsuit, HALT expects to ask that court-ordered easements be removed for landowners who are members of HALT and who have their land taken through eminent domain proceedings. If you are interested in becoming a HALT member, please contact us.
Landowners who sign easement agreements with PennEast cannot have the easement removed from their deed – even if the pipeline is not built. Those easement agreements are assets that can be sold to another company.
Eminent domain is an individual homeowner issue, but HALT will try to help its members get answers to their questions. In addition, HALT members are banding together to contest eminent domain and minimize legal fees.
HALT will keep you informed as these events unfold. Our voices and actions remain the vital element that will stop this unneeded, unwanted, and harmful pipeline.
NJDEP Denies PennEast’s Request for a Permit Application Extension!
Thank you to all homeowners who are on the front line and continue to deny access and refuse offers!
Thank you to all who contacted the NJDEP this week!
Thank you NJ DEP for doing the right thing and upholding the rules!
In late April, the NJ DEP found PennEast’s application for permits to be incomplete and gave PennEast 60 days to address the lack of information and re-submit. Homeowner’s and others continued to deny access to PennEast and it requested a 60 extension to try and gather the needed information. The DEP said “No Extension”, and deemed the permit application “administratively closed”.
Our communities in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey continue to be united in the fight to stop this unwanted and unneeded pipeline.
Thank you, all for your continued commitment to HALT PennEast.
Here is a link to an NJ.Com Article about this latest news: NJ.Com – NJDEP Denies Permits needed for PennEast Pipeline