Sabal Trail Pipeline: Multi-Generational, Legacy Ranch (Sumter County, FL)

Sabal Trail Pipeline: Multi-Generational, Legacy Ranch (Sumter County, FL)

The Sabal Trail Natural Gas Pipeline (“Sabal Trail”) is a joint venture of Spectra Energy Partners, NextEra Energy, Inc. and Duke Energy, which has now constructed an interstate pipeline of some 515 miles to service Florida Power and Light (“FPL”) and Duke Energy of Florida (“DEF”). The 494-mile project originates in Alabama, stretches through Georgia, and terminates in Florida. Roughly 268 miles, 247 miles of 36-inch diameter and 21 miles of 24-inch diameter pipe, are located in Florida. The project traverses 12 Florida counties, including Hamilton, Suwannee, Gilchrist, Levy, Alachua, Marion, Sumter, Lake, Polk, Osceola, Citrus, and Orange Counties.  Its northern portion is referred to as the Sabal Trail Natural Gas Pipeline while its southern portion is referred to as the Florida Southeast Connection Natural Gas Pipeline System (NextEra Energy).  NextEra Energy is a wholly owned subsidiary of FPL.  Sabal Trail is now the third major interstate natural gas pipeline system in Florida, following after the Florida Gas (Kinder Morgan/Energy Transfer) and Gulfstream Natural Gas Pipeline Systems (Spectra Energy/Williams Company).

Once operational, this new pipeline system will be capable of transporting more than 1 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas at high pressure to gas-fired power plants operated by FPL and DEF. The regulatory structure of the Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act governs the use and safety protocols applied to the easement area. This is overseen by the U.S. Department of Transportation (“DOT”), Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (“PHMSA”), Office of Pipeline Safety.  Sabal Trail will operate the 36-inch diameter pipe with a maximum operating pressure of 1,456 psig (pounds per square inch) typically buried 3 feet underground. The permanent easement width is typically 50 feet. The temporary easement widths are typically 25 feet on either side. The pipeline is identified by color markers at regular intervals along its centerline. The pipeline route must remain clear. So too, the owner loses the right to exclude others from the easement area and may not use the easement area in any way that interferes with the use of the easement holder.

As in most natural gas pipeline takings, there is a substantial dispute as to value which involves the issue of severance damages, particularly those described as resulting from “proximity,” “market fear,” “stigma,” or the “mere presence of the pipeline.” Simply put, the pipeline industry maintains that, because the pipeline infrastructure is located underground, severance damages of this kind or nature are extremely minimal or non-existent. “If it’s buried, and one cannot see it, there must not be any severance damages to the remainder.” The industry maintains that property owners are compensated sufficiently by the pipeline companies only paying a percent of the fee value for the land acquired within the right-of-way because there are zero (0%) damages to the remainder based upon proximity to the pipeline in and of itself.

In Sumter County, Sabal Trail filed eminent domain proceedings to take both temporary and permanent natural gas pipeline easements through a 16,000 acre multi-generational legacy ranch.  The property offers both the serenity and peacefulness of “Old Florida” country, but is also located with the ease of access to the amenities of metropolitan areas.  The property is composed of an all-encompassing cattle range with ancillary operations in farming, forestry, sand mining, and pristine hunting preserves with a wide diversity of wildlife.  The diversity of habitat including improved pasture, Florida flatwoods with wiregrass understory, varieties of planted pine, rolling terrain, wetlands, and natural springs.  This matter resolved in mediation wherein the terms of settlement are confidential.

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