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How Much Damage Can One Gas Line Cause?

Walton and Okaloosa Counties are about to be traversed, once again, by a natural gas pipeline to be built across the north end of both counties. This pipeline will be the same in character, but different in degree from two other gas lines that already run the same path. The others are smaller, with less pressure, and less content running through the pipe. Owners in both counties have been offered the “value” of the property to be taken, in exchange for a permanent easement across their property. Some have questioned the amounts offered, and this article examines the value of their property, and makes some suggestions about the response they should make.

The swath of land the pipe will actually occupy is about 3 feet in width, and the transmission company’s appraiser has generously offered each owner the actual value of 25 feet on either side of the line, because the company says they do not want somebody building within 25 feet of the pipe. Therefore, it is only fair, they say, that the easement they demand, and for which they must pay, is 50 feet in width. That, the Company says, only makes sense, and that is what they should be required to pay for.

The gas transmission company has valued the 50-foot easement by very credentialed, highly motivated appraisers. If asked, the Company will tell you that the pipe to be installed is to be 36 inches in diameter, and carries over one thousand pounds per square inch of pressure, 24 hours a day.

What the Company will not tell you, even if asked, is the distance from such a pipeline that an intelligent person could build a permanent structure. That distance may be as much as 500 feet. If it is, even if the person owned hundreds of acres, he could do nothing but grow pine trees for a swath 1,000 feet wide, all the way across the property. What would that do to the future development value of his land, and of a significant portion of the north end of both counties? Suppose, as is the case of one property owner I know, his property is a long, narrow strip of property, rectangular in shape, 10 acres in size, across which the pipeline will span diagonally. A 1000-foot strip on which no permanent development can occur will render the entire property useless for anything except growing crops or hunting deer. That owner has to be a hunter and hope there are lots of deer or that pine tree futures go really high one day. Neither will be the highest and best use of the land.

Florida law allows a jury to assess “severance damages” where a condemning authority takes only a portion of property, but the planned use so severely affects the value of the remaining property that the owner should be compensated not just for the property actually taken, but also for that which is diminished in value but not taken. The Florida Constitution requires that the condemning authority pay the owner for all damages. That includes the “severance damages” described in this article, and for all legal and appraiser fees.

A sizable band of property all across north Florida is about to be imprinted forever by one more gas line. That cannot be avoided. But owners of the property should decline to accept the pennies-on-the-dollar approach that the pipeline company is offering in exchange for permanently restricting the use of their land. I assure you that when the pipe is installed and carrying gas to other parts of Florida, the cost of gas in north Florida will not be reduced to recompense our sacrifice for the benefit of others.

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