National Fuel takes land owners in Erie County to court

Posted at 6:41 PM, May 22, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-22 22:41:10-04

National Fuel is fighting about 16 land owners in Erie County in court for the rights to their land. The corporation wants to install a $455 million dollar pipeline from Pennsylvania to Canada. Part of the 97 mile long gas line would pass through many private properties in Sardinia, New York.

Despite the Department of Conservation denying National Fuel water permits to dig, the company has been trying to force more than 500 private land owners to sell their properties to the company anyway. Lia Oprea and 15 others aren't going for it. They are afraid gas could contaminate the nearby Cattaraugus River, if the pipeline is put under the river. The river is a water source many neighbors use for drinking, fishing, and farming.

"To sign it away to somebody else feels like you're giving your baby to somebody else to watch, and you already know they are not a great babysitter," Oprea said.

The 180 acres of Sardinia farm land she owns has been in her family for more than 100 years. Dairy Farmer, Russel Vacinek doesn't agree with the pipeline either. He's one of many Erie County residents who handed their property's over to National Fuel.

"They upped the price a little bit and for me to go in civil court and waste my time in civil court and rack up a bunch of attorney fees, just not in my best interest," Vacinek said.

After several failed negotiation attempts, National Fuel is taking those not willing to sell to court. The company hopes a judge will grant it the rights to those properties.

National Fuel has issued a statement on the subject. We have posted that in full below:

"A very popular and prominent piece of misinformation about eminent domain is..... National Fuel does not seize anyone's land.....we pay for an easement and the right to install, operate and main underground natural gas infrastructure. The land owner retains ownership of the property to continue to use for recreation purposes or their livelihood -- as the land can still be farmed on once the construction of the pipeline is completed. National Fuel does reimburse the land owner for lost seasonal usage for two growing seasons and if necessary, will review if additional time if needed. The ONLY thing that the landowner cannot do on the Right-of-Way is build a structure.

To say that National Fuel is stripping land owners of their land, their livelihood, their heritage and their future is not accurate. Of the more than 500 landowners that would be affected by the pipeline route of Northern Access, National Fuel reached amenable agreements and compensation for easements with all but 16 land owners. It is always our desire and intent to obtain all easements through negotiation and asking the court to intervene is the only last ditch effort.

National Fuel remains committed to developing the half billion dollar natural gas infrastructure project and we are moving forward with the court process to preserve and secure all the land rights required to install the pipeline."