Landowners Celebrate Halt to Louisiana Pipeline Construction

ST. MARTINVILLE, La. (CN) – In a win for landowners, Bayou Bridge Pipeline said it will stop construction of its crude oil pipeline through 38 acres of private property in Louisiana after an owner filed for an injunction to halt the project.

In this Friday, April 27, 2018 photo, trees in a cutback sit between an existing pipeline channel, left, and a new pipeline channel, on Bayou Sorrel in the Atchafalaya River Basin in Louisiana. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

On the eve of what would have been a hearing Monday over the injunction, Bayou Bridge agreed to halt construction until another hearing – this one over whether the pipeline company can legally access the 38 acres under the law of eminent domain. That hearing is scheduled for late November.

The property in question is an undeveloped parcel of marshland in the heart of the Atchafalaya Basin that is co-owned by hundreds of landowners.

The petition seeking an injunction was filed in July by co-owner Peter K. Aaslestad in the 16th Judicial District Court for the Parish of St. Martin.

Bayou Bridge’s lawsuit seeking eminent domain was filed immediately after Aaslestad’s request for an injunction, in the same court.

“The big victory is that the Bayou Bridge Pipeline LLC agreed to halt construction today – on land that they actually had no legal authority to anyway,” said Anne Rolfes, founding director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, a nonprofit that works with communities neighboring state oil refineries, during a press conference Monday morning outside the courthouse in St. Martinville.

“It wasn’t a ruling, because Bayou Bridge actually blinked,” Rolfes added.

“We entered into an agreement with the company that essentially gives us everything we would have asked for with our request and would have argued for in that hearing,” Misha Mitchell, lead counsel for Aaslestad and staff attorney for Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, said during the press conference.

Mitchell added, “The company has voluntarily agreed to cease entering onto the property and to stop all construction activities on the property. So it’s a huge victory for not only [Aaslestad] but also for other landowners who are now the subject of an expropriation suit filed by the company with respect to this property, and landowners in general, across the state.”

Bayou Bridge has allegedly been clearing trees, digging a trench and laying pipelineon the property without permission.

“On property that it had no legal right to,” Rolfes said. “It would be as if I brought a bulldozer and went up to your house and just started hacking through your property. It was that brazen and that illegal.”

Rolfes called the agreement a “huge victory” as well as a “blow to Bayou Bridge.” For one thing, now the company cannot meet its declared deadline to finish that portion of the pipeline by October. Because construction of that portion must wait until at least November, Rolfes said, it cannot be finished until at least December.

She added that her side’s victory “was exemplified by the fact that their attorney ran down the stairs after the hearing.”

“That’s how we like to see Bayou Bridge: running out of the state. That’s where they belong. They certainly don’t belong here,” Rolfes said.

The Bayou Bridge Pipeline is jointly owned by Energy Transfer Partners, which merged with Sunoco in 2012, and Phillips 66.

The 162-mile crude oil pipeline will carry almost half a million gallons of oil a day across 11 Louisiana parishes and 700 water bodies, from Nederland, Texas to St. James Parish, roughly 50 miles from New Orleans. Louisiana has parishes rather than counties.

Energy Transfer Partners, abbreviated as ETP, also built and owns the controversial Dakota Access pipeline. The Bayou Bridge Pipeline will be the final leg connecting the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota with Louisiana refineries and export terminals.

An ETP spokesperson said the agreement to not enter the private property for now “does not have any impact to our construction schedule or the timing of our project completion.”

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards –  a Democrat who has often replied to harsh public opposition to the Bayou Bridge Pipeline with assurances the company will follow all federal and state laws in its construction and operation of the pipeline – did not respond Monday to email requests for comment.

A blast from a ruptured ETP natural gas pipeline in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, on Monday morning led to the evacuation of 30 houses and the closure of area schools. This accident is just one of several examples of what advocacy groups such as the Louisiana Bucket Brigade point to as ETP’s disastrous safety record.

In a phone interview Monday, Rolfes, of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, said her organization has heard complaints from people it works with across the country who say ETP keeps missing construction deadlines because they try to work fast and cheap.

“And they end up paying,” Rolfes said, citing accidents and explosions.

Those in favor of the pipeline say it will create jobs and that transporting oil by pipeline poses fewer risks than other methods.

Opponents to the Bayou Bridge Pipeline say it is time to stop exploiting oil and gas and to turn instead to renewable, cleaner energy sources. They have cited concerns with the pipeline’s impact on the Atchafalaya Basin – the largest, contiguous remaining wetland in North America, as well as with possible destruction of clean water, crawfish and human health.

Opponents have also cited concerns over the legal status of several pipeline construction permits.

Coastal-use permits from the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources were remanded back to the department by Judge Alvin Turner of the 23rd Judicial District Court in St. James Parish last winter.

Turner ordered the agency to create a spill response plan and evacuation plan in St. James Parish, where 2,000 people are at risk from pipeline accidents.

Advocacy groups also have another pending federal legal challenge to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Clean Water Act permits issued in late 2017, which authorize construction across the Atchafalaya Basin.

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