PUBLIC HEARING NEXT TUESDAY BEFORE COUNTY COUNCIL ON WHETHER THIS SHOULD GO ON BALLOT.
HASN’T THE THE FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY ENDANGERED PUBLIC HEALTH AND SAFETY ENOUGH ALREADY? TELL COUNCIL WE DO NOT NEED OR WANT CHERRY POINT EXPANSION, MORE PIPELINES, MORE TRAINS AND MORE SHIPS.
On July 25, 2017, the Whatcom County Council is scheduled to hold a hearing to gather public comment on a proposed resolution providing for submission to the voters of Whatcom County at the next General Election, to be held on November 7, 2017, an advisory ballot seeking citizen input regarding the use of eminent domain by pipeline companies to take property rights from private landowners for use in oil and gas pipelines in Whatcom County. If the resolution is approved, the Council must appoint committees on the 25th to prepare pro and con statements for the local voters’ pamphlet.
There are two pipeline companies that might use your property to bury their pipes transporting petroleum products:
1. Williams Pipeline Company of Oklahoma intends to build the “Island Gas Connector” pipeline through Whatcom County as early as 2019 but does not own easements for the entire right of way. It has applied for permits from DNR to begin geological testing near Cherry Point for the proposed Island Gas Connector project. The IGC Project will seek a permanent easement from landowners along the proposed approximately 34-mile (54-kilometre) route between Sumas and the Birch Bay/Custer, Washington area. I found information and this general map on where the pipeline would go: http://islandgasconnector.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/ICG-Fact-Sheet-Propose-Route-APR-29.pdfhttp://islandgasconnector.com/
The applicant states, “if the proposal moves forward, the IGC Project would negotiate for land rights fairly and equitably based on established land valuation practices. The IGC Project would compensate landowners for an easement to construct, operate and maintain an underground pipeline, and in limited cases, above-ground equipment related to the pipeline such as valves, pipeline markers and corrosion protection equipment.”
2. Kinder Morgan company recently indicated their potential interest in expanding the Puget Sound Pipeline, which runs through Whatcom County, increasing from 240,000 barrels per day to 500,000 barrels per day which may require larger easements across Whatcom County property than the company currently owns.
RCW 81.88.020 conveys the right to use eminent domain against private landowners for benefit of private corporations for purposes of construction, maintenance and operation of pipelines carrying oil, gas and other petroleum based products. They are provided all the rights and privileges of railroads. https://app.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=81.88.020.
You can not refuse to sell. If you do, the company will involve the courts and a third party will be assigned to determine the fair market value of the easement. They will only have to pay for the value of using a limited piece of your land for limited purposes, but the real costs in terms of health impacts and loss of property value will be yours to shoulder alone.
I remember something from a year or so ago about the county changing its easement rules to allow utility companies to have easements in all county rights of way without compensation. It seemed like a bad idea to me and I may have spoke against it, but the public was not interested in this issue, and it passed. It concerned me that there were no projects attached to this so it was unclear what the administration was planning. I believe that this earlier legislation made it possible for the pipeline companies to more easily afford to use eminent domain .
So you can thank the county for creating this situation. The code changes had been drafted by a legal firm, which was a huge red flag for me, and it was blessed by the Prosecutor’s Office and the staff. Council approved this rather naively. I think that the council is not comfortable with this current proposal but their options are limited.
Here is the what I do not know.. is it better to say yes to the putting this on the ballot as a means of making public the opposition to this proposal? From a review of the statute, it is not clear to me that the county council has the power to say no to the use of eminent domain for building the pipeline. What they may have some power over is the approval of the underlying project application, but only IF the law gives them this right of review, and right now I do not know the law or the procedures that are involved here. There may have been negotiations or contact already with the tribes and that may influence the council.
I do know that given our experience in Whatcom Falls Park, we all know the dangers that come with pipelines.