Judge: Pipeline work can go forward
A Louisiana judge ruled Thursday that a company building an oil pipeline through south Louisiana trespassed on the land of three people opposed to the project, but he allowed the work to continue while awarding the three only $150 apiece in compensation and damages.
Judge Keith Comeaux’s ruling Thursday said the land was seized for a legitimate public purpose, and that the land in dispute was of little value to its out-of-state owners. His ruling disappointed opponents of the nearly complete Bayou Bridge Pipeline, who said they would appeal.
Opponents had hoped the St. Martinville-based judge would order the pipeline removed from the relatively small amount of land involved, a small fraction of a 38-acre tract. Barring that, they had hoped for a major damage award to discourage other corporations from illegally taking land.
Energy Transfer Partners, the project owner, has said the 162-mile pipeline is expected to be operational by year’s end.
“While the court did find the company trespassed on our clients’ land, the damages award validates their business decision,” said Pamela Spees, an attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights, which worked with Loyola University law professor Bill Quigley and the Louisiana Bucket Brigade on the issue.
ETP issued a brief statement, noting that construction is nearly complete. “We are pleased with the ruling from Judge Comeaux and look forward to bringing the pipeline into service before the end of the year,” the emailed statement said.
At the heart of the legal issues was the practice of expropriation – government allowing a private entity to take land, with fair compensation to the owners, for a legitimate public purpose, in this case transferring oil to refineries along the Mississippi River. Comeaux allowed the expropriation to proceed.
Comeaux agreed that the project owners trespassed by failing to get permission to work and by failing to start expropriation proceedings before building. However, he sided with Energy Transfer Partners in noting that the three had never been on the land prior to the expropriation.