Jury awards 33 times what Sabal Trail offered to Levy Co., FL landowner 2018-11-09

If this isn’t what Sabal Trail was scared of back in September when they settled three jury trials in Valdosta, Georgia, it should have been.

Sabal Trail path digitized by WWALS, Maps

Andrew Caplan, Gainesville Sun, 12 November 2018, Sabal Trail must pay Levy landowners $1.3M

A 12-member jury in Gainesville awarded Levy County residents Lee Thomas and his son, Ryan, more than $1.3 million for land that Sabal Trail built its pipeline on.

Sabal Trail Transmission was back in federal court in Friday to defend its controversial $3 billion project and the offers it made to a pair of landowners for uprooting and burying a natural gas pipeline on their property.

That didn’t go over so well.

A 12-member jury in Gainesville awarded Levy County residents Lee Thomas and his son, Ryan, more than $1.3 million for land that Sabal Trail built its pipeline on. The company previously offered the family a combined $39,100.

“I was happy to see that we came out on top,” Thomas said. “It’s been a long ordeal.”

No one-time payment is enough, but $1.3 million divided by $39,100 is more than 33 times. That’s way more than the five times as much as Sabal Trail offered that two previous juries awarded, on March 20, 2018, in Ocala, Florida and on June 27, 2018, in Valdosta, Georgia.

Thomas, 74, said his son works full time on the farm, mostly growing watermelon and peanuts. Construction of the pipeline, he said, caused them to lose roughly $700,000 in crops. Contractors also cut down 25 large oak trees.

Sabal Trail representatives asserted that the company would work with landowners who had legitimate concerns about the pipeline’s placement, though Thomas said that didn’t happen.

“They did not work with us hardly at all,” he said.

Now, he says, company representatives, trucks and planes frequently show up or fly over to check on the easement to ensure there are no problems.

In the above map, you can see the scar left by Sabal Trail doesn’t quite match the red line for it digitized by VSU Prof. Can Denizman and students. It’s pretty obvious that’s because Sabal Trail jogged around somebody else’s fancy house a bit up the line, as you can also see in Sabal Trail’s own alignment sheet::

Sabal Trail alignment sheet 1657-PL-DG-70197-360, STA. 18836+00 TO STA. 18889+00, MP 356.74, MP 357, MP 357.75, STT MP 357.0, LEVY COUNTY, FLORIDA, from April 2016, provided online by Lowndes Area Knowledge Exchange (LAKE).

Whoever that is, and all the other landowners who got Sabal Trail moved off their land but still nearby, or who took the first offer, may want to consider this:

Parcel 036040040A, Maps
Parcel ID 036040040A, 11151 NE 35 ST, Bronson, Florida, in Levy County Property Appraiser’s website.

$1.3 million divided by $300,000 is 4 1/3, so the jury awarded the landowner more than four times what he paid for the property.

Bad move, Sabal Trail, moving that pipeline closer to his house?

Still, no one-time payment is enough:

“We bought the property because we wanted privacy, now there’s no privacy at all,” Thomas said. “They can come right through here anytime. You never know who is going to be on your property. For the rest of our lives we’re going to have people coming down that easement.”

I can attest to that. I have two pipelines on my property (SONAT and AGL), and I’ve had to build fences and gates and chase off poachers for many years, plus other problems I won’t go into here.

And the ever-present danger of what happened in Homerville, Georgia, when gas from that same AGL pipeline blew up a business and sent three women to the hospital with third-degree burns.

I’ve got an idea: let’s take private eminent domain out of the Natural Gas Act, and then pipeline companies will have to pay every landowner at least full price for their entire property. Let’s see how many pipeline boondoggles get built then.

Thomas hired Jacksonville-based Brigham Property Rights Law Firm and Gainesville attorney Bill Crispin.

Throughout the pipeline’s construction, Sabal Trail has argued it has federal eminent domain power under the Natural Gas Act as a private, for-profit company.

Attorney Andrew Brigham, however, successfully argued that landowners in Florida must abide by state property laws, not federal. Brigham said the difference is significant in that the U.S. Constitution requires payment of “just compensation,” whereas state law requires “full compensation.”

What would that have meant if more landowners had gotten awards like just happened?

The company sued more than 250 landowners through eminent domain, gaining access to their property to build, and crossed about 370 bodies of water throughout construction of the pipeline, which was met with outrage and protests from environmentalists. Throughout North Central Florida, the pipeline affected residents living in rural parts of Levy, Gilchrist, Marion and Alachua counties.

And Hamilton, Suwannee, and Gilchrist Counties, Florida, and a bunch in Georgia and Alabama, as well as farther south in Florida. And outrage and protests from people who did not know previously that they were enviromentalists.

Let’s see, 250 times $1.3 million is $650 million, which is more than 21% of the $3 billion price tag for the Sabal Trail pipeline. That seems likely to be more than the pipeline company’s profit margin. I doubt even Spectra Energy’s partners NextEra Energy or Duke Energy would bail them out of that.

Look who did not supply a quotation:

Sabal Trail spokeswoman Andrea Grover would not say if the company will appeal the jury’s award but said the company is weighing its legal options. She would not comment on the original offers.

Maybe Sabal Trail should offer to take up its pipeline and go home to Houston (Spectra Energy) or Alberta (Enbridge Energy), or where-ever they really come from.

 -jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

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