By Casey Junkins
WHEELING –As a 29-year U.S. Army soldier and former West Virginia State Police trooper, Larry Helmick said he is no stranger to the federal courthouse in Wheeling, where he and dozens of other property owners face a sweeping eminent domain lawsuit from the company building the $4.3 billion Rover Pipeline.
In both Ohio and West Virginia, the company building the giant natural gas pipeline is filing to use eminent domain to build the pipeline, which will be up to 42 inches in diameter on its route stretching from Doddridge County, W.Va. to Michigan. Earlier this month, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission granted approval for the project, which will be able to ship up to 3.25 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day.
The Rover is one of the several interstate pipelines — along with the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, the Mountain Valley Pipeline, the Leach XPress and the Nexus Pipeline — that industry leaders believe are necessary to move natural gas to market.
Helmick, a Sistersville-area resident, is one of numerous West Virginia landowners facing an eminent domain lawsuit in federal court, as Rover’s complaint shows the company is suing such entities and individuals as Hancock County Sheriff Ralph Fletcher, Marshall County Sheriff Kevin Cecil, the West Virginia State Auditor’s Office, Southwestern Energy Co., Statoil, Consol Energy and American Electric Power.
The company filed a similar federal lawsuit in the Southern District of Ohio, as the pipeline system runs through portions of Belmont, Monroe, Harrison and Jefferson counties. There are so many defendants in Ohio that the first 258 pages of the complaint are devoted to identifying them.
“Rover has not been able to acquire by contract and/or is unable to agree as to the amount of compensation to be paid for the easements …” the company’s West Virginia complaint states.
Helmick said the company offered him $24,000 to cross his property, on which he said he has two houses respectively valued at $300,000 and $150,000.
He did not believe the $24,000 was close to a fair price for all the disruption the work will bring for his family.
“It will decrease the value of our property. They are going to be here all the time, disrupting our lives,” Helmick said. “Their temporary construction zone is within 21 feet of our house. We are getting railroaded.
“It’s not right,” Helmick added. “We work. We pay our taxes. We do everything we are supposed to do. And then, to have them come in and just so nonchalantly say, ‘We don’t care what we do to you and your family,’ is really frustrating.”
Rover spokeswoman Alexis Daniel said the company does not discuss the details or financial terms of its negotiations with landowners, but said the firm seeks cooperation.
“It is only when that is not possible that we look to legal options. As a company, we have a more-than-90-percent success rate in negotiating voluntary easement agreements across all our projects,” she said.
Helmick said his opposition to the Rover Pipeline using his property does not mean he is against fossil fuel development.
“I support natural gas. I support workers. I support America,” he said. “Why can they not figure out a better way to do this than to just run over people?”
Helmick said the project plans will make it impossible for him to use a pond where he and his family have held parties.
He said the completed pipeline will be about 120 feet from one of the homes on his property and about 240 feet from the other.
Helmick lives in one of the homes with his wife, while his sister’s family lives in the other, he said.
The complaint further states Rover needs to remove all trees in the pipeline’s path by March 31.
“To meet all of its shippers’ needs and those of its shippers’ customers, while at the same time complying with applicable regulations and Rover’s obligations as set forth in the (FERC) certificate, Rover must begin construction immediately,” it states.
Rover attorneys state they have the authority to “condemn” the property in question because of the Natural Gas Act. According to the Department of Energy, the act, established in 1938, gives FERC the authority to regulate the natural gas industry.
“Transportation of natural gas and the sale thereof in interstate and foreign commerce is necessary for the public interest,” the act states.