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Columbia Gas of Transmission, LLC v. 1.092 Acres of Land In Township of Woolwich
United States District Court, D. New Jersey
January 28, 2015
COLUMBIA GAS TRANSMISSION, LLC, a limited liability company of the State of Delaware, Plaintiff,
1.092 Acres Of Land In The Township of Woolwich, Gloucester County, New Jersey; THOMAS A. SORBELLO, GRACE WHEELER, RUSSELL CATALANO, JR., AGNES MUSUMECI, AND FRANK M.SORBELLO, fee owners as tenants in common; THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, by the SECRETARY OF THE DEPARTMENT OF; AGRICULTURE (State Agriculture 1 Development Committee); FARM CREDIT EAST, ACA f/k/a FIRST PIONEER FARM CREDIT ACA mortgagee, Defendants. COLUMBIA GAS TRANSMISSION, LLC, a limited liability company of the State of Delaware, Plaintiff,
0.719 Acres Of Land In The Borough of Swedesboro, Gloucester County, New Jersey; LAKE PARK CEMETERY COMPANY, INC., fee owner; THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, BY THE SECRETARY OF THE DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE (State Agriculture Development Committee), Defendants. COLUMBIA GAS TRANSMISSION, LLC, a limited liability company of the State of Delaware, Plaintiff,
0.091 ACRES OF LAND IN THE TOWNSHIP OF LOGAN, GLOUCESTER COUNTY, NEW JERSEY and KVA GROUP, LLC, FEE OWNER, Defendants. COLUMBIA GAS TRANSMISSION, LLC, a limited liability company of the State of Delaware, Plaintiff,
7.076 ACRES OF LAND IN THE TOWNSHIP OF LOGAN, GLOUCESTER COUNTY, NEW JERSEY, DP PARTNERS LOGAN LAND COMPANY, LLC, fee owner, THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY BY THE COMMISSIONER OF THE DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION, and BANK OF AMERICA, N.A., mortgagee, Defendants. COLUMBIA GAS TRANSMISSION, LLC, a limited liability company of the State of Delaware, Plaintiff,
3.297 ACRES OF LAND IN THE TOWNSHIP OF LOGAN, GLOUCESTER COUNTY, NEW JERSEY, DP PARTNERS LOGAN LAND COMPANY, LLC, fee owner, THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY BY THE COMMISSIONER OF THE DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION, and WELLS FARGO BANK, N.A., mortgagee, Defendants.
JEROME B. SIMANDLE, Chief District Judge.
In these five condemnation actions, Plaintiff seeks to acquire a right-of-way (permanent easement), along with a temporary construction easement, for the construction of an interstate natural gas pipeline across Defendants' property.
Plaintiff now moves for injunctive relief under the eminent domain authority of the Natural Gas Act, 15 U.S.C. § 717f (hereinafter, the "Gas Act"), and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 65. [Docket Item 1 in all actions.] Plaintiff specifically seeks Orders establishing Plaintiff's right to condemn the easements across the Defendants' properties, and allowing Plaintiff to take immediate possession of such easements, prior to a final decision concerning the amount and payment of compensation to the Defendants as condemnees.
The principal issues before the Court are whether the FERC certificate grants Plaintiff a substantive right to condemn Defendants' properties, and, if so, whether the Court should grant Plaintiff equitable, intermediate relief in the form of immediate possession of Defendants' properties.
For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant Plaintiff's motions for preliminary injunction, and will issue Orders for Condemnation in each action.
A. Factual and Procedural Background
On November 13, 2013, Plaintiff, a natural gas company that owns and operates an interstate network of gas transmissions lines, applied to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (hereinafter, "FERC") for a certificate of public convenience and necessity in order to construct "two new pipeline segments totaling approximately 19.1 miles, " including a 9.6 mile segment of pipeline through the Townships of Logan and Woolwich in Gloucester County, New Jersey. (Compl. at ¶¶ 1-9.) The proposed pipeline specifically endeavors to provide "312, 000 [additional] dekatherms per day (Dth/d) of firm natural gas transportation service to the growing mid-Atlantic markets, " including New Jersey, in order to meet current and future demand for natural gas, to "access to new sources of domestic natural gas supply, " and to "support the overall reliability of the energy infrastructure." (Id.)
Such proposed construction, however, requires Plaintiff to acquire two sets of permanent and temporary easements, depending upon the location of the affected property on the path of the proposed pipeline. (Id. at ¶¶ 9-10, 17.) Specifically, in areas that run parallel to Plaintiff's existing facilities, Plaintiff seeks to expand its current permanent right-of-way and easement by an additional 25 feet. (Id.) In areas where Plaintiff cannot "co-locate new facilities with its existing facilities, " however, Plaintiff seeks a permanent "right-of-way and easement 50 feet in width." (Id.) In addition, Plaintiff seeks a temporary workspace easement abutting its expanded and/or new easements, in order to facilitate construction. (See, e.g., Compl. [Docket Item 1 in 15-208], ¶ 17.)
On August 29, 2014, FERC issued an Environmental Assessment for the proposed pipeline, in which FERC concluded that the proposed pipeline would not result in any significant environmental impacts. (Id. at ¶ 12.) Thereafter, FERC issued a Certificate authorizing Plaintiff to construct the proposed pipeline in its entirety on December 18, 2014. (See Luis Dec., Ex. A.) In so approving, FERC specifically found Plaintiff's proposed project required for "the public convenience and necessity, " in light of the fact that it will "provided needed transportation infrastructure, " and based upon the "minimal adverse impacts on [Plaintiff's] existing customers, other pipelines and their captive customers,  landowners and surrounding communities." (Id.) Moreover, in finding the requisite public need, FERC noted the binding shipping agreements between Plaintiff and Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation, New Jersey Natural Gas Company, South Western Energy Services Company, South Jersey Gas Company, and South Jersey Resources Group, LLC. (Id.) Such agreements, however, all hinged upon an in-service date for the new pipeline of September 1, 2015, and FERC directed that construction be completed accordingly. (See Compl. at ¶ 13; see also Luis Dec., Ex. A.)
In advance of FERC approval, Plaintiff has, since 2012, sought to identify the individual properties impacted by its proposed construction, and has engaged in ongoing negotiations in order to purchase the necessary easements. (Compl. at ¶ 14.) Despite these efforts, Plaintiff has been unable to reach negotiated agreements with the 6 parcels of land involved in the pending actions. (Id. at ¶ 15.) Plaintiff therefore seeks to exercise eminent domain pursuant to the Gas Act, in order to acquire the remaining rights-of-way and easements. (Id. at ¶ 18-19.)
However, in light of certain environmental constraints on the timing of Plaintiff's construction, coupled with the September 1, 2015 in-service date established by the shipping contracts, Plaintiff seeks to exercise such rights immediately, and on an expedited basis, in order to begin actual pipeline construction on or about February 1, 2015, (Pl.'s Br. at 6-13), and the Court set this hearing on an expedited basis ...