Federal judge gives Rover OK to clear trees for pipeline


Clearing land and trees for the Rover Pipeline that will bisect Ohio can begin immediately after a federal judge gave his permission Tuesday.

U.S. District Court Judge Algenon L. Marbley granted a preliminary injunction preventing landowners from stopping construction crews from entering their land. However, his ruling applies to 232 landowners who already have negotiated or are negotiating agreements with the company to be paid for rights of way to their 270 properties.

It does not give the company permission to enter the land of 21 owners of 15 other parcels, some of whom have not been properly served with the complaint.

“You just cannot take somebody’s property without any notice or opportunity to be served,” Marbley told Tom Zabel, a Houston attorney representing Rover. Rover’s parent is Texas-based Energy Transfer.

The landowners may have been notified by attorneys for Rover and even hired lawyers. But that doesn’t count unless they also have been officially served by a court official, Marbley said.

The judge gave Rover until March 7 to have a process server hand notice on the owners, who can appear with their attorneys in his court on March 14 if they have a problem with the compensation they receive.

Some landowners have said they’d be happy with $70 or $80 a linear foot for the 50- to 60-foot right of way. Rover was not releasing the size of the one-time payments.

The $4.2 billion pipeline will run from Washington County in southeast Ohio northwest to Defiance and connect with pipelines to send Ohio natural gas to markets across the country.

Because the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission granted the project a permit on Feb. 2, the only issue to resolve was compensation to landowners. However, Marbley noted that federal law requires proper notification.

“You just cannot take somebody’s property without any notice or opportunity to be served,” Marbley told Tom Zabel, an attorney representing Rover.

Zabel said Rover is pressed for time to clear trees by a March 31 deadline set by federal regulators. After that date, tree removal would disturb federally protected Indiana brown bats that begin roosting in trees in April.

Rover has contractual obligations to shippers to open the pipeline as early as June but no later than October, Zabel said. It also has hired construction crews whose 14,275 workers will build the 713-mile pipeline that will connect with wells along the way and connect with natural-gas processing plants in West Virginia and to Canada. Only 38 permanent jobs will be created, Zabel said.

The 42-inch, underground pipeline will transport 3.25 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day from wells in the Marcellus and Utica shale fields to shippers and markets around the country, the company said.

“This is a big pipeline, it will move a lot of gas,” Zabel said. Natural gas being brought up by fracking and other methods in Ohio has been “stranded” because drillers have no access to pipelines, he said.

Zabel said it would cost Rover more money if construction crews must hop around properties where owners haven’t been given official notice.

Marbley said properly serving landowners and holding a hearing March 14 should allow the company to meet its March 31 deadline to clear the trees.

Asked after the hearing if that was enough time, Zabel said he could not comment until after he talks with Rover officials.