hearts and minds

August 6, 2006

Appraising our Pipeline Futures

Filed under: Bill of Rights,Conversations with Sid D. Complex,eminent domain — Hearts & Minds @ 10:41 am

My ol’ buddy, Sid D. Complex, stopped by the other day. Everyone knows it’s fall and it’s getting close to the rut, but that guy’s uncanny. He always shows up within hours of the first hot rubs and scrapes appearing.

“What is it with you, Sid? Have you got deer pheromone receptors in your olfactories? I mean my mouth waters when I take a walk this time-a-year and it can’t be just the falling leaves that makes my nerves tingle. But man, you not only act like a buck, and think like a buck, I do believe you’ve got canine or cervine genes embedded in your cells. That’s meant as a compliment, by the way.”

“None taken.” Sid was nonplussed and got right to the point. “Seen any bucks?”

“You betcha.” There’s no point trying to fool Sid. “One I saw ain’t gonna do anyone any good though. A young spike, big bodied and strong, hit by a car or truck, died amongst some trees where that pipeline’s supposed to go. You’ve heard about that two foot diameter high pressure gas pipeline that’s planned from Jackson to Port Washington?”

“Is that pipeline going through your place?” quizzed Sid. “Guess you’ll be getting some money for that. Help you pay the taxes next year, ain’a? Wish it was going through my place, instead of across the road. Heck, once it’s buried and re-seeded, no one will even know it’s there, and I could use some extra cash right now.”

“The few bucks they pay for those easements while your arm is being twisted by some of the most polite ladies and gentlemen you’ll ever meet is gone pretty quick, Sid. But those easements they want are forever. And the rights can be assigned, sold, leased, acquired in a corporate takeover by and to anyone. The fine print in that document allows whoever holds the easement, or whoever they allow, not only access to the easement, but use of all your adjacent property at any time for any purpose, for their ‘enjoyment and convenience’.”

“I didn’t know that,” Sid admitted reluctantly. “But once the pipe’s installed, they won’t be coming around, except maybe to inspect it or repair it. You can’t grow trees or build a road or mound system across it. But you can still grow corn or have a barbecue on it. You’ll go years without one of their crews even coming near your property.”

“Maybe,” I allowed. “But have you ever heard what it’s like when a large high pressure gas pipeline ruptures and explodes Sid? Rattles the windows miles away and makes it look like sunrise in the middle of the night. Of course those friendly PR folks smile and say it couldn’t happen. We won’t likely see those guys once the paper is signed, but I’m not so sure we won’t see the crews again after it’s installed. The document gives the increasingly deregulated power company, or whoever they permit or sell the rights to, the right to install other pipes if they want. As many pipes as they can fit there. And a pipe can be used to carry any ‘substance’ at all. If we sign that paper, they’ll even have the right to install above ground pipes or ‘appurtenances’ of any size, carrying any combination of ‘substances’ at any pressure, at any time from now until forever. How ‘bout them apples? Still want that pipe easement in your yard or even across the road?”

Sid scowled for a moment. “Ah, they ain’t gonna build all those pipelines you’re fearing. What are they going to use ‘em for, huh? C’mon, they just need a pipe to bring the gas to run the turbines at the new electric power plant on Lake Michigan. D’you think they want to build an eight foot radioactive toxic sewage gasoline pipeline? Think they’re gonna build a Soylent Green raw material supply pipeline? You had me going there for a minute. But let’s get real partner.”

“OK Sid, I admit I sound a tad paranoid. But if the easement is needed solely for a two foot natural gas pipeline for the Port Washington power plant, why doesn’t the document specify that? You and I hunt on private land where we get permission, and the terms get worked out in advance. Say we got permission to hunt deer. If we want to hunt geese or go fish, we need to ask permission for that, right? And just because we got permission to hunt deer doesn’t mean we can invite all our friends in, or set up a dirt race track, or hunt from a helicopter gunship.”

“There you go again, dude. Hey, you got a cold one?” Sid gestured towards the reefer. “And don’t forget to get one for yourself.”

“…Well, that sure hits the spot, Sid… Hey, do you know there’s no place on that paper for the power company to sign? It’s like a handshake with only one hand shaking. If you sign, you agree to hold them harmless forever, and to guarantee their easement rights forever, but nowhere do they agree to indemnify you from consequences of their use of that easement. And did you know the power company doesn’t even pay property tax on the acreage it owns outright in the town? Yet we’ll have to pay property taxes forever on their easement. Sound right to you? Come to think of it, if a farmer wants to grow crops on someone else’s field, he doesn’t just give a one time payment at today’s prices and then get to use the field forever and for any purpose. He pays rent each year and the rents and terms are negotiated from time to time as conditions change. Even a very long term lease ain’t forever. But the power company, for the price of a used pickup truck, gets unrestricted, untaxed perpetual control of your property. How would you like that, Sid? Sometime this winter, the smiling PR lady leads an old car-hauling semi around the town, dropping off a used pickup at each place on their list. All you gotta do is sign on the line. I know you like long beds. What color do you prefer, Mr. Complex?”

“How ‘bout another cold one, you nut. I’m feeling kinda dry”, says Sid. “You all better get yourselves a lawyer. But be careful which one. The power company has tentacles and under the table connections all over.”

“Don’t I know it, Sid. Don’t I know it.”

November, 2003 (Read the sequel, “WE the People vs. THEM the Power Company”, that wraps this story)

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