Attorneys discuss issues with easements

Pipeline project may affect some Warren owners

MARIETTA – About 25 people learned more about potential Warren Township pipeline issues Saturday in a program conducted and organized by a pair of Columbus attorneys.

William Goldman and Michael Braunstein, with Goldman and Braunstein LLP of Columbus, held an informational meeting Saturday at Tunnel United Methodist Church near Marietta.

The attorneys said the Cobra Pipeline is planned across 300 miles of Ohio. Landowners in Warren Township are being contacted by the pipeline company and need to know how an easement will affect their properties and pocketbooks for years to come.

Saturday’s program was aimed at local landowners affected by the pipeline project. Its goals included providing information on how a landowner can ensure the highest amount possible for an easement, what needs to be done to ensure property is restored after construction and what steps should be taken when negotiating an easement to ensure land, livestock and a family’s well-being are protected during construction and after the pipeline is in place.

Braunstein said the pipeline project involves the proposed installation of a larger pipe in an existing easement which runs through Warren Township. It would follow the existing Columbia gas line in Warren Township.

His company has been meeting with residents throughout the region on a regular basis for the past several years, Braunstein said. Much of his firm’s work involves eminent domain and easement cases involving roadway and pipeline projects.

The growing interest and involvement in development of the Marcellus Shale natural gas deposits has been having a strong impact on southeastern Ohio, he said.

“This seems to be the preferred corridor to these pipelines,” Braunstein said, adding there is growing interest among landowners about ensuring their property and concerns are protected.

“We do anticipate having more meetings like this as people request us to come out and speak with them,” he said.

The current tentative timeline on the Cobra pipeline project calls for work to begin next January or in the spring of 2015.

The attorneys urged the landowners present to consider seeking legal advice or counsel before making any decisions regarding their properties where the easement is located. Whether it is their own firm or another, both also recommended contacting an attorney with some experience in such matters.

“It’s going to affect your property now and it’s going to affect its future,” Braunstein said, adding easement terms are crucially important to protecting the future of a person’s property.

Goldman said easements need to be correctly written and not left too broad, which can be detrimental to the current owner. An easement which is too broadly written can also affect the property’s future by scaring potential buyers concerned about what might happen in the future under such an easement.

Braunstein said there is strength in numbers, which can be an advantage for both the landowners and for the company installing or using the pipeline. By working together, the landowners jointly will have more leverage and the potential for more benefits.

The pipeline company will benefit by reducing the number of individual negotiations that might be necessary on a landowner by landowner basis, he said.

In a potential case involving Goldman and Braunstein, Braunstein said each landowner would still have their own case and concerns represented, even if several landowners go together. No one will be obligated to accept any specific action they dispute simply because a majority accepts that action, he said.

Braunstein also said landowners need to be aware that while the existing easement might provide the right to put in a new pipeline, it doesn’t give the company involved any right to add additional above-ground equipment or construction, citing compressor stations as an example. Those must be addressed in a new agreement.

Warren Township resident Paul Mason was among those attending Saturday’s meeting and he felt it was helpful to him.

“I think it had a lot of information. Dealing with these companies and pipelines, you need all of the help you can get, in all seriousness,” he said.

Mason said Saturday’s meeting reinforced his own belief that it would be wise to have legal representation in any case involving easements or rights of way on his own property.

“I would say if they want to cross my property, before I signed any lease or agreement or anything, I would have to have an attorney look at it. Nowadays, that’s just the only way to go,” he said.