An environmental group claims a company that wants to construct a crude oil pipeline between Albany and New Jersey is harassing homeowners in New Jersey to move the project forward.
The New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club is opposed to the 178-mile Pilgrim Pipeline, which would carry Bakken crude oil from the Port of Albany to refineries in Linden, New Jersey.
The pipeline project has begun regulatory filings in New Jersey and is conducting land surveys.
The Sierra Club claims the company has sent letters to homeowners threatening and intimidating them to gain access to their property. Chapter Director Jeff Tittel says it is harassment. “They have no legal rights to do this. They are quoting a section of law that doesn’t even apply to them. Think about it this way, here you are a small homeowner being threatened by big oil. And they’re doing it because they don’t have a right to get on those peoples’ property. ‘Cause they figure if they can intimidate people then the people will let them get on their property to do their surveys. And so it’s really a giant bluff by them. But for the people who are being impacted by this law firm and by Pilgrim it’s not a bluff. It’s serious. Nothing is more frightening to a homeowner than when someone says to you we’re going to condemn your land. This is intimidation. I mean this is The Sopranos.”
The Sierra Club is working with the Eastern Environmental Law Center, a public interest legal firm. Attorney Aaron Kleinbaum responded to the October 17th letter to homeowners with a cease-and-desist demand to the company’s law firm. Kleinbaum says Pilgrim Pipeline is a private company that has no power to use eminent domain. “They don’t have the power to condemn unless they are a public utility or they can provide a public use. Their October 17th letter doesn’t claim that they’re a public utility nor do they claim a public use. But even if they claimed they were a public utility they still don’t have the power to condemn. They’ve got to go to a hearing at Board of Public Utilities. And even if they claimed, which they haven’t in their letter, that they are a public use they’d have to go through a proceeding before they would have the power to condemn private property. The legal claim they’ve made in their letter is false.”
Sierra Club New Jersey Program Assistant Kate Milsaps says it’s important that landowners resist the pipeline company claims. “They need to get on these people’s properties now in order to get their permits together to come into these agencies. So that is why they are pursuing this campaign of harassment and intimidation because they need to get on the property in order to make this project a reality. If the landowners stand firm and deny survey permission it makes it extremely difficult for this project to become a reality. So that’s why it’s very important that landowners know that they’re being told it’s a done deal but it’s the farthest thing from the truth and they have a lot of power to prevent this from being on their property.”
Pilgrim Pipeline Spokesman Paul Nathanson told WAMC they were not doing interviews to respond to what he referred to as a “publicity stunt” by the Sierra Club. He noted that 90 percent of landowners gave the company permission to survey their land; less than 10 percent had been sent letters.
When asked how many homeowners had been threatened, Sierra Club Kate Milsaps admitted that only one landowner had come forward with a letter. She said they have spoken with others who denied the company permission to survey.
While Pilgrim Pipeline has yet to submit any permit applications in New York, Riverkeeper Watershed Program Director Kate Hudson reports that the company has been attempting to survey land. “We have heard from private property owners and also local town representatives who have been approached by property owners in Ulster County indicating that they were getting contacted by representatives of Pilgrim and being presented with forms which implied that Pilgrim had a right to go on their property. When in fact Pilgrim has absolutely no right to go on private property either in New York or New Jersey. There is a little bit of a regulatory gap here because there is no state or federal agency that has the responsibility for overseeing the siting of an oil pipeline as opposed to a gas pipeline. And so local homeowners and local governments have no idea who to go to try and find out what their rights are.”
Nathanson reported that the company plans to begin the permit application process in New York in the first quarter of 2015.