Attorneys pressed a company executive Friday during a pre-trial hearing in a court case to determine whether the company building the Bayou Bridge Pipeline project in the Atchafalaya Basin trespassed on private property without completing the necessary process to obtain the land.
At the center of the lawsuit is a 38-acre parcel of land in St. Martin Parish on which landowners claim Energy Transfer Partners violated constitutional law in order to construct the 162-mile oil pipeline because they did not obtain the proper legal consent before doing so. The Center for Constitutional Rights is suing the company on behalf of the landowners in the basin and challenging the constitutionality of Louisiana’s eminent domain law for pipelines.
Louisiana law allows a company to take land for a project deemed in the public interest through expropriation, which involves court filings and an agreement to pay the owner what the land is worth. Owners of some of the St. Martin Parish land in question say Bayou Bridge Pipeline LLC didn't complete the process in some cases, and made insufficient effort to identify, find and contact some owners.
During the hearing in St. Martin Parish Courthouse before Judge Keith Comeaux, attorneys for the Bayou Bridge Pipeline entered into evidence Friday several documents concerning the company and its business dealings with securing property upon which the pipeline is being built. Among those were environmental assessments from the Army Corps of Engineers to determine how the pipeline could increase the area’s capacity for refining crude oil, which would produce gasoline, butane and petrochemicals needed for manufacturing plastics. These documents reported that the fully-functioning pipeline would help to diversify the state’s crude oil supply and bring $471 million in economic development to Louisiana alone.
Kevin Taliaferro, director of right of ways for Energy Transfer Partners, was asked by attorneys for the Bayou Bridge Pipeline to clarify the documents as they were entered into evidence. He was also asked how the company determined which parcel of land was owned by whom and if each landowner owned only a portion of each parcel.
Attorneys for the the Center for Constitutional Rights asked if 100 percent ownership was required before construction of the pipeline began on the property.
“I don’t know the answer to that question,” Taliaferro said. “Ideally, we would have 100 percent ownership.”
When pressed again on a definite answer, Taliaferro responded, “We started construction without 100 percent ownership.”
Earlier this week owners of the project said it is almost 90 percent complete and will be in service soon, despite numerous protests and multiple court battles.
"We anticipate being in service by the end of the year," Alex Daniel, a spokesman for Energy Transfer Partners, had said.
However, Bill Quigley, an attorney and Loyola University law professor who is among the lawyers handling the landowners' case for free, had said: "They constructed this pipeline without the legal authority to do so."
Ideally, from the pipeline opponents' standpoint, the judge would declare that the pipeline on the swampy acreage in question was built illegally and that it must be disassembled and the land returned to its former state. Quigley conceded in the telephone news conference that that is unlikely. A more realistic possibility is that the judge would order damages for the landowners.
The lawsuit is set for trial on Nov. 27 at the St. Martin Parish Courthouse.