Failure to communicate between a pipeline company and landowners has led to a federal lawsuit over access to easements.
Spire STL Pipeline has filed for a temporary injunction to access a rural road in Greene County to access land owned by Betty Ann Jefferson Trust, Philip and Zena Brown and Marc Steckel. Spire has asked the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois to grant temporary access to complete the pipeline easement remediation efforts.
According to the lawsuit, the families are refusing to allow access to Speyer to complete remediation work ordered after a ruling by the same court in March.
Nate Laps, president of operations for Central Land Consulting, who has represented some of the landowners throughout the Spire pipeline issue, says Spire distorts the facts of the case in the lawsuit: “The issue in question would be communication. From my conversations with one of the parties who have been accused of not granting access or of wanting to grant access to the easement, this is not the case. Landowners are more than happy to negotiate temporary access, but they would like the term “negotiate” to be what I will use. Because on the Speyer side, if you don’t have what they want, you can’t. Landowners have never denied access. It’s a miscommunication and all the Steckels and the Browns and all the other parties that would grant access want is communication and proper negotiation.
Spokesman for the arrow Raegan Johnson told the Courier Journal that 70% of homeowners along the easement were satisfied with the remediation efforts and saw their crops return faster than expected. Johnson went on to say that the pipeline company had limited time to negotiate to come to agreements with the remaining 30% of landowners along the pipeline easement and that the prominent estate had to be used in some cases. Johnson called some of the owner’s demands on the price of the land “inflated.”
Laps says communication between landowners has improved in recent months after remediation efforts by the Illinois Department of Agriculture: “I believe Ryan Renicker from the Illinois Department of Agriculture has been heavily involved in reviewing properties, FERC and Spire tours, and working with landowners. It probably influenced Speyer communication with landowners as well. IDOA is very involved and tries to force the demands of AIMA.
Laps believes the Biden administration is taking a more active approach in the matter. He says it was a difference in philosophy at FERC under the Trump administration: “[The Biden Administration] is obsessed and focused on environmental justice. Where are the landowners and where we are at, we are grateful for this philosophy. We do not want to prevent pipeline construction or shut down pipelines in any way. We want protections for landowners – their farmland and the environment. This is certainly the big difference since the arrival of the new administration.
Laps says Federal Energy Regulatory Commission staff come personally from Washington DC to make site visits with all landowners in the pipeline footprint during the week of June 28.e. Laps says he has never heard of FERC coming directly to a site that has been challenged and decisions ongoing before. Spire said it would continue to work to fulfill its agreements with landowners affected by the pipeline despite the ongoing litigation.