Tyrone could challenge eminent domain: Hanover PA Evening Sun, 12/5/06

By Tim Pratt

If some residents have their way, Tyrone Township will soon pass an ordinance prohibiting private corporations from seizing land through eminent domain.

More than 40 people attended a meeting Monday at Heidlersburg Volunteer Fire Co. to discuss fighting Duke Energy Co.'s proposal to seize land through eminent domain and build a natural-gas compressor station near the intersection of Route 234 and Oxford Road.

Duke Energy officials have said that if the 40-acre property is not sold, the land will be seized through eminent domain. They have also said land adjacent to the property could potentially be seized for power lines that would serve the station.

Tom Linzey of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund was invited to the meeting because he specializes in helping townships and other community organizations in drafting land-use ordinances. Because Duke Energy is classified as a utility company and makes natural gas available to the public, it has the right to seize the land, he said.

Linzey informed residents Monday that township supervisors – who organized and attended the meeting – could pass an "anti-corporate taking ordinance" on the grounds that the state Legislature did not have the authority to give private corporations the right to seize land through eminent domain.

Linzey called the ordinance – which would be the first of its kind in Pennsylvania – a "frontal challenge" and "cutting edge."

"Eminent-domain power conferred upon corporations violates the rights of private citizens under the Constitution," Linzey said.

"If you set this type of precedent, it would be statewide," he added.

During an informal survey, a majority of those in attendance said they would support the township enacting such an ordinance.

A similar ordinance is being considered in one Virginia county, Linzey said.

But Linzey warned the ordinance could be risky for the township.

Duke Energy could potentially sue the township for lost profits, he said. And a company like Duke Energy most likely has a "team of lawyers with deep pockets" that could potentially bankrupt the township, he said.

Supervisors said they would consider the ordinance but want to get more feedback from township residents on the matter.

"I would like to look at the ordinance and see what we come up with and look at the ramifications," said Supervisor Margaret Barra.

The compressor station project has received significant opposition from many township residents since its February introduction. While many are concerned about the safety of the proposed station, eminent domain has recently become one of the main concerns.

"The real concern is the loss of democratic decision-making in communities," Linzey said.

Duke officials have said a compressor station is needed every 50 to 70 miles in order to boost pressure and deliver natural gas from Texas to New Jersey and numerous sites throughout the Northeast.

Officials said the existing natural-gas pipelines lose pressure because of friction in the pipes and increases in the number of locations at which the pipes are accessed. The nearest compressors are in Chambersburg and Marietta.

According to Duke Energy representatives, Tyrone Township is a prime location for such a compressor.

Hanover PA Evening Sun: http://www.eveningsun.com