Sabal Trail Pipeline: Easement Bifurcates Rural Residential Lots (Orange County, FL)

Sabal Trail Pipeline: Easement Bifurcates Rural Residential Lots (Orange County, FL)

The first jury trial involving landowners who had easement rights taken by Sabal Trail Transmission, LLC, under the power of eminent domain proceeded in federal court before U.S. District Court Judge James S. Moody, Jr. in Ocala, Florida.

Landowners Chuck and Jan Sunderman had their 40-acre tract of land in Bay Lake, Florida, split down the middle by Sabal’s natural gas pipeline a distance of 1,336 feet. Sabal, owned by Spectra Energy, NextEra Energy, and Duke Power, will use the 36-inch diameter pipe with a maximum operating pressure of 1,456 psig to transmit up to 1 billion cubic feet of natural gas a day to powerplants in Florida owned by Duke Energy and Florida Power & Light.

Sabal contends that because its pipeline is buried 4 feet underground, there are no damages to market value other than for bifurcation – out of sight, out of mind. In fact, in Florida, Sabal paid 3 appraisal firms in excess of $8 million to prepare studies to show that market participants do not distinguish natural gas pipelines from other pipelines that, say, transmit water. Of course, these appraisal firms have long-standing track records working for pipeline companies, always finding in their studies that there is no difference in the amount buyers or sellers transact on land with or without pipelines.

Landowners are left with the choice to accept a few cents on the dollar in settlement or brace themselves for a long hard fight in court over the amount of compensation to be paid. The Sundermans, for instance, were offered a total of $56,800 by Sabal to settle the matter, paying for the right to use the easement area and a 25% damage to their remaining property. The damages, however, were only attributable to bifurcation.

The case proceeded to a jury trialBrigham Property Rights Law Firm represented the Sundermans.   Sabal Trail’s appraiser testified to the same $56,800 as “full compensation.”  The Sundermans’ appraiser testified to $310,000.  The jury’s verdict found “full compensation” to be $309,500 or $500 less than opined by the Sundermans’ appraiser.

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