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Landowners, Pipes Square Off Over Notification Issues

Landowners, Pipes Square Off Over Notification Issues

Landowners and interstate pipelines actually agreed on something last week - neither were particularly thrilled with some of the initiatives proposed by FERC for carving out a greater role for landowners in the certificate process. But the reasons for their dissatisfaction were completely opposite.

In commenting on the notice of proposed rulemaking (NOPR) dealing with landowner issues, landowners argued that the Commission was so wrapped up with "details" in the NOPR that it missed the crux of the landowner-pipeline problem, which they believe could be partly remedied if FERC were to require pipes to notify potentially affected landowners of new greenfield projects "prior" to filing applications at FERC and to engage in collaboration from the outset. They contend the Commission's NOPR, which was issued in late April, falls far short on this score. It proposes that pipelines alert landowners about new Section 7(c) projects by certified mail within three business days "after" filing their applications at FERC [RM98-18].

"The pipeline industry seems more willing to quarrel about the details of how to deal with landowners than to face the heart of the problem. Should landowners be involved sooner rather than later?...Should the letters [to landowners] go out the day before, the day of, or the day after the filing of an application with the Commission? Should the letters include the FERC docket number? Should letters be sent certified mail, or is first class good enough? Details and more details. So what?" said Anne Marie Mueser of the GASP Coalition, which represents landowner interests, in comments submitted to FERC last Monday. "Sending a letter to [landowners] is a nice touch, but it does not cure what is wrong with the process."

Although citing its appreciation for FERC's efforts, GASP said the notification process outlined in the NOPR would not create a "level playing field" and would be "insufficient to resolve problems" between landowners and pipelines. It further accused the Commission of being "unable or unwilling to control abuses" of pipelines towards landowners, and said that pipelines' use of eminent domain to take landowners' property was "unconstitutional as well as unconscionable."

The Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA), in contrast, supported the three-day, post-filing notification requirement for Section 7(c) projects, saying it "strikes an appropriate balance" between the needs of affected landowners and the needs of the pipelines for timely Commission review of their project filings.

But INGAA and individual pipelines said they would oppose any sort of mandate requiring formal pre-filing notification of landowners, such as through pipeline-landowner meetings, to give them a greater role in the project siting process. Most pipelines already voluntarily hold such meetings with landowners, and find them to be "beneficial" for working out problems associated with their projects, Great Lakes Gas Transmission L.P. told FERC. But mandating such "pre-filing meetings where [a] pipeline either lacks sufficient details about a project's route or even its size is more likely to create issues than to resolve them...The timing and breadth of those meetings should not be dictated by the Commission." The Process Gas Consumers Group (PGC), a group of industrial gas users, agreed, saying the meetings "should be left to the discretion of the pipeline."

Pipelines also took issue with a NOPR initiative requiring them to give landowners at least 30 days notice prior to starting construction on replacement facilities or under their blanket certificate. Although they favor landowner notification for case-specific certificate applications, INGAA and others insist such a requirement shouldn't be imposed on unplanned replacement projects (i.e. plugging a leak, equipment failure or corrosion) because often these projects can't wait 30 days to be addressed.

INGAA called FERC's 30-day notification proposal for blanket-certificate projects unessential. "If a pipeline is going to perform new construction under its blanket certificate, the pipeline must already have or have obtained the necessary right-of-way, and in the normal course of business would notify the resident prior to entering the property." Specifically, it asked FERC to eliminate altogether the proposed prior notice period for unplanned maintenance and replacement projects, and to reduce the notice period from 30 days to three days (or a time period provided for in an easement agreement) for planned pipeline work.

Susan Parker

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ISSN © 2577-9877 | ISSN © 1532-1266
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