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Pipeline Developers Offer Property Owners "Pennies and Peanuts," Then Use Eminent Domain to Take Their Land


Tennessee has made nationwide news — and not for a good reason. The government has handed its power of eminent domain off to a big corporation, and residents are paying the price. More specifically, the Byhalia Connection Pipeline run by Valero Energy and Plains All American Pipeline is using eminent domain to take land from Black property owners according to MLK50: Justice Through Journalism.

$3,000 for Nearly a Century of Memories

One property owner MLK50 spoke to considers his acre of land a generational inheritance. Because his family has lived on the plot since at least the 1940s, he turned down Byhalia Pipeline’s offer of $3,000. Then, the company took him to court.

That’s why they call it eminent domain; they going to just do what they want,” said the man, who will lose approximately 10% of his property to eminent domain. Although the property owner contacted an attorney and got a higher payout, not even $9,000 replaces the land that holds the homes of himself, his sister, and his son.

Isn’t Eminent Domain for Public Services?

Eminent domain is a necessary government power that “allows a government or a governmental entity to take property for a public purpose.” Historically, government officials have used eminent domain to provide essential public services, including roads, electricity, and sewers. Unfortunately, oil and gas companies are increasingly using eminent domain as a “formidable tactic” to seize lands they can’t otherwise get. These companies claim their services are for the public good, but they are really to increase profits for CEOs and the companies themselves.

Both environmentalists and social justice warriors have raised concerns about the use of eminent domain by oil and gas companies, but the Trump Administration recently made the process easier.

In the words of a senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center:

We do not believe that an out-of-state private crude oil pipeline company should be allowed to trample on the property rights of Memphis landowners and take their land for private business purposes.”

Although stopping an eminent domain seizure is possible in some cases, it requires substantial resources — resources Black property owners simply don’t have.

Can Power and Resources Defeat the Law?

As nefarious as it sounds, some activists believe Byhalia Pipeline chose an indirect route for the project and targeted communities of color because they know residents there might lack the political and economic power to fight back. Unlike the government, which may have limited resources for legal action, corporations like Byhalia Pipeline have almost infinite financial resources. When the government is on their side, they can be hard to beat.

Still, legal power is an important part of the equation, as well. Sadly, Black property owners are often unable to afford the same caliber of attorneys as major corporations or even White property owners, which means legal battles can be uneven and ineffective.

For example, the property owner who is the subject of MLK50’s piece was forced to accept $9,000 for his property to avoid a legal battle he simply couldn’t afford.

Another nearby landowner was offered just $4,700 for a plot of land he paid $7,000 for. The property owner has lived on the plot his whole life and invested more than $30,000 in the land. Nevertheless, it would cost him nearly $5,000 to retain an attorney.

Property owners call Byhalia Pipeline’s offers “pennies and peanuts.” These properties have been in families for generations or were intended for country-style retirements. Now, landowners will have to worry about construction, patrols, and liquid hydrocarbon, and they must ask Byhalia Pipeline for permission to make any changes to their property. Not to mention the potential health hazards should the pipeline leak.

If I had known that it (the pipeline project) was being thought of, I wouldn’t have bought the land,” said one of the landowners in question.

Byhalia Pipeline is also sidestepping other legal proceedings, asking the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to “fast-track” the Nationwide 12 permit approval. Representatives for the pipeline declined to comment on MLK50’s story, but residents feel like they are being stolen from:

It’s even more than just the loss of land, it’s the process and the theft that’s occurring that is also very degrading and painful for the people in this community.”

Are You Facing Eminent Domain

At Allen, Semelsberger & Kaelin LLP, our entire job is to make sure you receive just compensation for your property. We can help you fight eminent domain when appropriate and recover the highest potential value of your property if it ends up being seized.

If you are facing eminent domain, do not let big corporations win. Instead, give us a chance to present your case effectively and efficiently.

Call us at (888) 998-2031 or contact us online to speak with our experienced eminent domain lawyers and get the personalized service and support you deserve.