The New Hampshire Senate passed a bill intended to give eminent domain protections to homeowners in the path of a gas pipeline project. Energy company Kinder Morgan recently suspended its plan to build a natural gas pipeline through southern New Hampshire, but a bill aimed at the project still passed 23-1. If enacted, it would allow homeowners to request a gas pipeline developer take their entire property, even if the company is just interested in a small piece. The measure would apply only if the house that are within 250 feet of the project.
A version of the bill has already cleared the NH House. But the House tabled a Senate-backed proposal to invest more money in energy efficiency efforts. In an effort to keep the energy efficiency legislation alive, the Senate tied the two bills together Thursday and sent the package back to the House.
The Iowa House of Representatives recently passed a bill restricting the ability of independent transmission developer to exercise their power of eminent domain. The House passed House Bill 2448 by a 63-33 vote. If passed by the Iowa Senate, developers would have to obtain agreements from 75% of property owners along an electric line’s route within three years or the Iowa Utilities Board would not be able to grant the authority necessary to compel cooperation from reticent landowners along a project’s route. It appears the bill is aimed to block completion of the Rock Island Clean Line, a $2 billion, 500 mile high-voltage direct current transmission project planned by Clean Line Energy Partners.
Montana’s Supreme Court heard arguments last week in a case that will determine the future of Missoula’s water utility. The City of Missoula is trying to take ownership of that city’s water utility – Mountain Water Company. Mountain Water says Missoula has no right to take it and turn it into a public asset.
Last year a district court judge ruled in favor of the city, saying public ownership is a “more public use” than the utility staying in private hands. The City has pointed out that 128 incorporated Montana communities successfully own and operate their own water systems.
City Attorney Harry Schneider said there’s wide public support for public acquisition of Mountain Water. A ruling is not expected for some time.
The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a West Virginia eminent domain case. In Beacon Resources Inc. v. W. Virginia DOT, the trial court denied the West Virginia Department of Transportation’s request for a jury instruction that compensation could not include any lost profits suffered by the condemnee. The jury awarded Beacon $24 million and the DOT appealed. The West Virginia Supreme Court vacated the award and remanded the case for a new trial stating the lower court erred in not giving the requested jury instruction. The condemnee appealed and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal.
Legislation has been proposed in both Missouri Houses that could prevent the use of eminent domain for privately funded, long distance, Direct Current transmission lines. The issue was raised when Grain Belt Express was denied a Certificate by the Missouri Public Service Commission. The PSC found that the project, which would mostly serve the east coast, was not needed by Missouri nor would its benefits outweigh the costs. Clean Line Energy Partners has stated that it will re-apply for approval of its project before the PSC. In response, Missouri legislators have submitted bills that would prevent the use of eminent domain for private, long haul transmission lines that are designed to transport electricity to other states. They are HB2418 and SB1107.
The Rhode Island Supreme Court ruled in a case of first impression that the right of first refusal to repurchase excess land condemned for highway purposes terminates when the original condemnee dies, and that right doesn’t pass on to the person’s heirs or estate. In Estate of Richard J. Deeble v. Rhode Island Department of Transportation, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation condemned property in 2001 for a highway project. After the project it had surplus property. However, the original property owners died in the interim. The justices held that the state constitution only provides rights of first refusal to buy such surplus property to the original condemnees and doesn’t extend beyond their lifetimes. The justices rejected the estate’s argument that the right transcends the death of the original condemnee and subsequently passes to his or her heirs, successors and assigns.
A divided Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court ruled that PennDOT could condemn over 40 Philadelphia properties even though the takings were initiated over a year after the plans’ first approval. The decision reversed a trial court’s ruling that Section 302(e) of PA’s Eminent Domain Code gave PennDOT a year to file a declaration of taking after first authorizing a project. The appellate court ruled that PennDOT could subsequently reauthorize the project and effectively reset the one-year clock provided by the code.
The Court explained, “Under the trial court’s application of Section 302(e), a condemnor would be required to file all the necessary declarations of taking within the one-year period or forever be barred from proceeding with the taking. Such a result could jeopardize a condemnor’s ability to perform necessary public improvement or even to complete public improvement that have started and not finished. Certainly this could not have been the intent of the General Assembly as the public is not served by such an approach.” Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt opined in a dissent that allowing reauthorizations to reset the one-year clock would “place private property owners in eminent domain limbo.”
The case is In re: Condemnation by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania et al., case number 1308 CD 2014.
SC is considering a bill that would prevent the use of eminent domain for the Palmetto Pipeline petroleum line. A state Senate subcommittee approved a bill barring the use of eminent domain by a “private, for-profit pipeline company, including a publicly traded for-profit company, that is not a public utility.” The bill would also create a study committee to consider a number of issues raised that property owners.
PA Gov. Wolf signed legislation, sponsored by Rep. John Taylor, R-Philadelphia, which provides homeowners additional funds for relocation assistance and further brings Pennsylvania’s eminent domain laws in line with federal law. Eminent domain statutes generally provide for reimbursement of relocation expenses incurred by condemnees. These amounts are in addition to other potential damages such as the value of the condemned property.
HB 1411, now Act 88 of 2015, increases the cap for damages to reestablish businesses and farms operations from $12,000 to $25,000. It also increases the cap for displaced homeowners from $27,000 to $31,000 and residential tenants from $6,300 to $7,200.
There are times when a condemnor decides not to use property it has taken via eminent domain. At that point, states have a variety of procedures that must be followed. The PA Supreme Court has decided to hear a case relating to this issue. In In re: Petition of the Borough of Downingtown, one of the issue that will be decided is:
Where a municipality has satisfied the requirement to dispose of condemned property under Section 310(a) of the Eminent Domain Code by abandoning the purpose for which the property was condemned, does the Donated or Dedicated Property Act, Act of Dec. 15, 1959, P.L. 1772, 53 P.S. §§ 3381, et seq. (the “DDPA”) nonetheless require judicial approval before a municipality may dispose of that property?