Landowners fighting Bayou Bridge have fired back at the pipeline builders and challenged whether oil companies may seize private land generally, and whether Bayou Bridge in particular followed the law.
Bayou Bridge is designed to carry crude oil 163 miles from Lake Charles to St. James. Energy Transfer Partners, the project's majority shareholder, says construction will conclude next month.
Property owners filed new documents in St. Martin Parish on Wednesday that question whether oil companies may take land at all. The Louisiana constitution allows gas pipeline builders to seize property under eminent domain, but only after a public hearing and upon receiving clearance from the state Department of Natural Resources, attorney Pam Spees, of the Center for Constitutional Rights, said in an interview.
However, there aren't any rules on the books for how oil pipelines are regulated when oil companies want to take land under eminent domain, she said. Part of the lawsuit challenges what Spees described as a void in the state statute.
"Oil pipelines can just go ahead and start (construction activity on private land). … They don't have to have any certification before they start expropriating,” she said. "Unless a landowner holds out and takes it to court, there's no check on this anywhere."
Because the landowners have challenged the constitutionality of the state law, the Louisiana Attorney General’s office has now been named in the suit. The AG’s office did not return messages seeking comment Wednesday.
In the St. Martin case, some of the property owners have argued that Bayou Bridge construction crews entered their 38-acre plot without permission and before the eminent domain suit could be settled. The undeveloped property has hundreds of heirs, and the litigants said that while many consented to allowing Bayou Bridge to run through their land, others did not, and the company should not have proceeded without unanimous agreement or a judge’s blessing.
Energy Transfer Partners did not respond to a request for comment.
“Bayou Bridge’s attempt to expropriate this land is not only a violation of the rights of the hundreds of property owners who share a stake in these precious wetlands, but it’s a grave environmental threat to this vital ecosystem,” landowner Theda Larson Wright said in a statement.
Earlier this week, the pipeline company agreed to stay off the land until an expropriation hearing scheduled for Nov. 27. However, a Bayou Bridge spokeswoman said the decision would not push back their planned October completion date. The company has argued in court that Louisiana law permits common carriers of petroleum products to expropriate private land if they are acting as a public utility, a status the company say applies to Bayou Bridge.
ST. MARTINVILLE — The builders of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline agreed Monday to stay off some disputed land in St. Martin Parish, but say the dec…
If the court finds that oil companies may lay pipes on private land as a common carrier, the St. Martin landowners are still asserting that Bayou Bridge behaved inappropriately. It began construction on the land in question before completing the legal expropriation process, Spees said. The landowners have asked the court to find that Bayou Bridge trespassed, damaged their property and infringed on their constitutional rights and have asked for compensation, though no specific amount has been requested.