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Owners say pipeline close to operational; opponents press on

Posted at 4:35 PM, Nov 15, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-15 17:35:37-05

NEW ORLEANS (AP) – Owners of an oil pipeline under construction in south Louisiana say the 162-mile-long (260.7-kilometer) project is almost 90 percent complete and will be in service soon, despite numerous protests and multiple court battles.

“We anticipate being in service by the end of the year,” Alex Daniel, a spokesman for Energy Transfer Partners, said in an email this week – days before a state judge in rural St. Martin Parish in southwest Louisiana was to hear the latest court arguments. Energy Transfer is the majority owner of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline project.

In the latest legal battle, environmentalists and landowners plan to argue at a Friday court hearing that the project owners trespassed on private property without completing the necessary process, known as expropriation, to obtain it – and that the expropriation process itself in Louisiana is unconstitutional.

“They constructed this pipeline without the legal authority to do so,” said Bill Quigley, an attorney and Loyola University law professor who is among the lawyers handling the landowners’ case for free.

Louisiana law allows a company to take land for a project deemed in the public interest through expropriation, which involves court filings and an agreement to pay the owner what the land is worth. Owners of some of the St. Martin Parish land in question say Bayou Bridge Pipeline LLC didn’t complete the process in some cases, and made insufficient effort to identify, find and contact some owners.

“This summer I learned that they were in fact on the property in full construction mode,” said property owner Peter Aaslestad, who lives out of state but talked of deep family roots in Louisiana during a news conference this week.

Moreover, pipeline opponents and the landowners say the pipeline project is not for the public good, but for private gain at the expense of potential environmental damage from spills. They also say Louisiana allows too much power to private companies in the taking of property, violating the Louisiana and U.S. constitutions.

Ideally, from the pipeline opponents’ standpoint, the judge would declare that the pipeline on the swampy acreage in question was built illegally and that it must be disassembled and the land returned to its former state. Quigley conceded in the telephone news conference that that is unlikely. A more realistic possibility is that the judge would order damages for the landowners.

State District Judge Keith Comeaux could issue a ruling Friday that would resolve the dispute in favor of one side or the other or he could keep it alive for a later trial. Any ruling he makes is certain to be appealed. Whether it will stop or delay the pipeline at this point is unclear.

Daniel said Energy Transfer would not comment on the litigation.

Katherine Aaslestad, brother of Peter and another participant in the legal case, said she hopes owners of the pipeline project will be held accountable. “My objective is to be a steward of the land,” she said Tuesday, “and to encourage other landowners to stand up for their rights.”