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$1B PennEast gas pipeline picks up court victories for rights of way

PennEast Pipeline Co. LLC is ready to move forward with its 1.1-Bcf/d natural gas pipeline after federal courts found that the project, approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission early in 2018, is in the public interest and should have access to properties in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

In a Dec. 14 opinion, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey granted PennEast's application for orders of condemnation and injunctive relief that allow it to take immediate possession of rights of way ahead of any award of compensation for the land. The court denied New Jersey property owners' request for dismissal of the pipeline's request and rejected an effort by the New Jersey attorney general's office to block access to properties in which the state has an interest. The court appointed officials to decide on compensation. (U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey docket 18-1585, et al.)

In February, the New Jersey attorney general denied PennEast's offer to purchase right of way through lands in which the state has an interest, including 16 areas in a state conservation program. New Jersey lawmakers, landowners and environmental groups have challenged the project in court. FERC approved the project in January in a 4-1 decision. (FERC docket CP15-558)

The New Jersey district court decision followed a similar decision in early December by the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania involving a property in that state.

Tony Cox, chairman of the PennEast board of managers, said the company was pleased with the rulings, which allow it to take another step forward in development. "We strive to build positive relationships with landowners, the community and agencies and will continue working toward that goal," Cox said in a Dec. 14 statement. "With today's ruling, PennEast can collect and supply scientific data as required by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the [New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection] for PennEast's permits to ensure a thorough and complete application."

Cox said PennEast has aligned about half of the New Jersey route along overhead power lines and other utilities to reduce tree clearing and other environmental impacts. He said the company has allocated millions of dollars to open-space preservation because impacts to preserved parcels must be mitigated under state law.

A Natural Gas Act certificate issued by FERC to a pipeline company carries with it the power of eminent domain, which allows the holder to take property for public use. Courts typically uphold a developer's right to use the power if it cannot reach an agreement with a landowner over the taking of a property and compensation.

The PennEast pipeline, estimated to cost about $1 billion, will include 120 miles of 36-inch-diameter pipe in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. About one-third of the pipeline route lies in two New Jersey counties. PennEast is a joint venture of units of Enbridge Inc., Southern Co., South Jersey Industries Inc., New Jersey Resources Corp. and UGI Corp.