Third Circuit hears dispute between landowners and Bayou Bridge Pipeline

Updated: Jan. 8, 2020 at 8:13 PM CST
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LAKE CHARLES, La. (KPLC) -To not have property taken away without due process of law is a fundamental Constitutional right. Several opponents of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline went to the Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeal to fight for that right.

The Bayou Bridge Pipeline is already up and running. But several landowners in St. Martin Parish say the company trespassed and took their land without waiting to get permission.

Attorney Pam Spees is with the Center for Constitutional Rights and represents landowners. She says if not stopped by the courts companies can do whatever they want, as far as taking property in Louisiana.

“Oil pipeline companies have been handed the power of eminent domain, so they don’t have to go through the state to acquire property. They can go directly to the landowners and take their property as if they were the state,” said Spees.

“This company made a business decision in early 2018 to just go onto the property, begin clearing trees and build this pipeline, long before it ever filed in court to do it legally,” she said.

Landowner Katherine Aaslestad admits she owns only a tiny interest in land, but says that doesn’t diminish her rights.

“We didn’t want pipelines going through the land that we inherited from our grandfather, so we both said no to two of their offers. And then they decided to sue us and that’s when my brother put the injunction out and we found out the land had already been devastated, destroyed and the pipeline had been laid. And this was outrageous,” she said.

Aaslestad calls it eminent domain for private gain.

“We still have rights as property owners and to have those rights be run roughshod by this company is still appalling and it’s still upsetting and it’s still insane that this can happen,” she said.

Spees says Louisiana citizens need more protection from companies wanting to lay oil pipelines.

“With coastal erosion, and climate change and sea level rise and flood concerns in this state, you can’t just rubber stamp an oil pipeline anymore,” she said.

Another issue is whether minimal penalties encourage companies to not follow the process.

“They got assessed damages only in the amount of $225. It cost them less to violate the law that it does to comply with it,” said Spees.

Energy Transfer Partners owns Bayou Bridge Pipeline. The attorney arguing for the company, Ian Macdonald, declined to appear on camera.

During his comments to the court, Macdonald admitted the company trespassed for five months, but says they followed required procedures after that to get required approvals and compensate landowners.

Macdonald also discussed the company acquired the property after a rigorous and exhaustive permit process and public comment. However, Spees says the environmental permitting process has nothing to do with the process of taking landowners property.

Macdonald told the Court the landowners interest in the property was 5/100 of 1%. But Spees says, the size of the interest has nothing to do with landowners’ rights.

The landowners and company disagree whether the taking of the property is justified due to public purpose or necessity. Macdonald told the Court, putting petrochemicals into the market is sufficient as to public purpose or necessity.

Spees told the Court if the case stands there will be even quicker taking of lands in Louisiana.

It will be up to the Third Circuit to decide, though whichever side loses is expected to appeal to the Louisiana Supreme Court.

Here’s a link to an impromptu news conference recorded by Louisiana Bucket Brigade, after arguments before a three-judge panel of the Third Circuit Court.

Judge Billy Ezell, Judge Sylvia Cooks and Judge Jonathan Perry were on the panel.

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