Bill Passed to Protect Property Owners in Advance of Pipeline

As Kinder Morgan continues through the Federal permitting process for a 36-inch natural gas pipeline, the New Hampshire legislature and public officials throughout the state are taking steps to protect property owners and ensure residents are included in the planning process.

After an initial round of open house events in Southern New Hampshire communities to be affected by the pipeline project, U.S. Senators Kelly Ayotte, R-NH, and Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, with Congresswoman Annie Kuster, D-2nd Dist. NH, and Congressman Frank Guinta, R-1st Dist. NH, urged Kinder Morgan to hold additional public meetings on the proposed route.

“In order for New Hampshire citizens to have the same opportunity that Massachusetts residents had to evaluate this project in full, more time is required,” the delegation members wrote. “With that in mind, we respectfully request that Kinder Morgan hold a second round of open houses during the coming months in potentially affected communities to allow New Hampshire residents to better review and understand information, assess potential impact and meaningfully express their views in an open and transparent setting. Furthermore, town administrators and officials should have the most up-to-date and accurate information about how their communities will be impacted as this process moves forward.”

Kinder Morgan has scheduled additional meetings in several affected communities, including a question and answer session they are to host at the Londonderry High School cafeteria on Thursday, June 18, at 7 p.m.

Town Manager Kevin Smith said the session would offer residents and public officials an opportunity to ask representatives from Kinder Morgan questions about the project and hopefully, learn more details about the project.

Looking to the future of the project, the New Hampshire Senate passed on June 4, as amended, a House bill that would allow a residential owner losing part of his or her land to eminent domain the option to require a pipeline developer to take the whole property.

House Bill 572 also clarifies the amount of damages to be awarded to the owner of a property acquired by eminent domain, requires rules be adopted governing the siting of high pressure gas pipelines and prohibits taking by eminent domain public or private conservation land.

While the Federal government supersedes state laws, the legislature was able to create some parameters for the project to protect property owners, according to State Senator Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry.

“Most of the pipeline will come through existing right-of-way, but if there are any eminent domain procedures we wanted to make sure property owners are really protected,” she said.

According to the amended bill, when a residential property is proposed to be acquired in part for the construction of a high pressure gas pipeline, the owners of the property will have the option to require the taker to condemn and take in fee any property within 200 feet of the proposed pipeline, including all buildings and improvements on the property.

If the landowner and taker disagree on the value of the property, each party will agree on the choice of two licensed appraisers and fair market value will be determined by the average of the two appraisals. The taker would be responsible for the cost of the appraisals.

The bill further protects property owners and State land by requiring the site evaluation committee to establish criteria or standards governing the siting of high pressure gas pipelines to ensure the potential benefits of such systems are appropriately considered and unreasonable adverse effects are avoided through a comprehensive, transparent and predictable process.

“That gave a little more power back to the legislature,” Carson said, noting there will be public hearings during the process of establishing criteria, which will serve as an additional opportunity for residents to provide input and address potential environmental impacts. “While the federal government has a lot to say about (the pipeline project), we do too.”

Carson noted that since New Hampshire tightened its eminent domain law a few years ago, it is strong and has never been challenged.

“When we have these types of projects, people really want to make sure the law is on their side to protect them and their property,” she said “When these projects come along, we want to strengthen the laws to try to put more rights on the side of the property owners.”

Carson noted that while Kinder Morgan wasn’t in favor of the legislation, she thinks HB572, as amended, is a good compromise and won’t invite a challenge from the Federal government.

“This bill comes close, but it doesn’t cross that line. We’ve gotten to a place where most of us can agree. There are some people who won’t want the pipeline whatsoever; it’s a difficult balance,” she said. “We need energy, so these projects are going to keep coming in. We have to make sure the property owners and the State of New Hampshire are protected.”

Carson, who plans to attend the question and answer session with Kinder Morgan this week, said she and State Rep. Doug Thomas, R-Londonderry are following the pipeline project closely, and are available to constituents who have questions.