ENVIRONMENT

Sierra Club Director: Oil Company Does Not Have Right to Use Eminent Domain for Pipeline

The Pilgrim Pipeline is a flash point, again. Pilgrim is looking to pump crude oil through a 178-mile underground pipeline. The Sierra Club claims Pilgrim is threatening homeowners that if they refuse inspectors access to their land, their property might be acquired through eminent domain — when only public utilities have the right to eminent domain. Pilgrim is calling the Sierra Club’s complaint a PR stunt. New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel told NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams that Pilgrim is not a public utility and therefore has no right to use eminent domain.

“They put out a letter to homeowners mostly in Morris County but along the route in New Jersey, who have denied access to their surveyors who were coming on their property, which is their right because they own the property,” said Tittel. “And in that letter they basically told the homeowners that if you don’t let them on the property, that they would take them to court under eminent domain. I think it’s not only a form of harassment and threats, but if you’re a homeowner, when a big powerful oil company that has a politically connected law firm threatens you with court or taking your property, I mean that’s pretty outrageous. And under the law in New Jersey, they do not have that right.”

Tittel said that Pilgrim’s previous statement quoted a section of law that is only for the Board of Public Utilities. He said that he is not sure where Pilgrim could get permission to use eminent domain since it doesn’t have it as a private oil company. Tittel said that the company would have to get approval for filling in wetlands and crossing streams but that he doesn’t believe Pilgrim would get approval to use eminent domain since it’s not a public utility.

Tittel said that crossing wetlands and streams would jeopardize drinking water supplies and that he would like Pilgrim to cease plans for the pipeline.

“You cannot put a pipeline through three of the most important water rivers in the state of New Jersey that more than 2 million people get their drinking water from and not expect to have the potential for leaks or even large spills,” Tittel said.

Tittel said that there have been disasters from oil pipelines in places such as Oklahoma, Arkansas, North Dakota and the Yellow Stone River. He said that New Jersey is not the right place for the kind of pipeline that Pilgrim wants and that there is nothing in return for New Jersey from it.

“We’re going to get the pollution from the refineries and we’re going to get this ugly pipeline cutting through the most important environmentally sensitive land and parklands and also crossing some of our major water supply streams,” he said.

On the current status of the pipeline, Tittel said, “They’ve had meetings with the DEP looking at permits. They’re out there looking to survey their right of way, so it’s still at the preliminary stages but the question I have for Pilgrim — if we can’t trust you in writing letters, how can we trust you with the drinking water of the people of New Jersey?”