Countersuing Company for Trespass, Illegal Construction, Landowners Cite Climate Change, Grave Threats to Public Health
September 12, 2018, St. Martinville, LA – Today, landowners whose property interests span 38 acres across Louisiana’s Atchafalaya Basin filed a constitutional challenge to the Bayou Bridge Pipeline Company’s (BBP) eminent domain lawsuit. The landowners, represented by the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights and local co-counsel Misha Mitchell of Atchafalaya Basinkeeper and Bill Quigley, claim that BBP’s attempt to expropriate their land violates the landowners’ right to due process and right to property under the Constitution. The landowners also countersued BBP for violating their property rights and trespassing, on the basis that the company began construction on their property without the legal right to do so, destroying trees and land in the process.
The challenge refutes the company’s claim that the pipeline is in the public interest—the underlying basis for their power to exercise eminent domain. The landowners’ filing details that the pipeline is actually contrary to the public interest—in light of the extensive spill and leak record of the companies involved, the role that pipelines have played in the coastal erosion crisis in Louisiana, and the ways in which reliance on fossil fuels has contributed to climate change.
“Bayou Bridge’s attempt to expropriate this land is not only a violation of the rights of the hundreds of property owners who share a stake in these precious wetlands, but it’s a grave environmental threat to this vital ecosystem,” said Theda Larson Wright, one of the landowners.
The challenge comes just two days after BBP agreed to stop building on sections of the land in question after another landowner, Peter Aaslestad, filed an injunction against the company in July 2018. The injunction lawsuit asserted the company illegally trespassed and began construction on Mr. Aaslestad’s family property without his permission and without bringing an expropriation proceeding. After Mr. Aaslestad filed the injunction, BBP filed the expropriation case in this matter, seeking to gain a right of way through the 38 acres to be able to lay, construct, maintain, and operate its pipeline. However, the filing claims that BBP is not a proper entity to exercise eminent domain, and did not undertake thorough, good faith efforts to locate and negotiate with landowners as required by law before starting expropriation proceedings. The case is currently scheduled to come before a judge in the 16th Judicial District Court in late November 2018.
BBP asserts in this case that it is a “common carrier” to which the state of Louisiana has delegated the power to expropriate private property, which requires them by state law to serve a “public and necessary purpose.” The landowners refute the company’s underlying claim that the pipeline would operate for the public benefit, noting the company’s record of oil spills and leaks; between 2002 and 2017, the companies forming BBP and/or their subsidiaries and joint ventures reported 527 hazardous pipeline incidents to federal regulators, spilling 3.6 million gallons of hazardous liquids. They also note the accumulated impacts of the proliferation of pipelines on the Atchafalaya Basin, the critical role the Basin plays in flood control and prevention, how pipelines have exacerbated Louisiana’s coastal erosion crisis, and fossil fuels’ established causation of climate change.
The landowners’ filing also notes that in Louisiana, there is no oversight or certification process for an oil pipeline company to be officially designated a common carrier with power to expropriate private property, leaving landowners subject to the whim of private companies. Moreover, in a separate filing, in an unrelated case, BBP asserted that even though it claims the power of eminent domain, it is not a quasi-public corporation which “owes a duty to the public” but rather a “private, for-profit entity” that is “not operating its pipeline business pursuant to any delegation or contract with the state.”
“Bayou Bridge has shown utter disregard and disrespect for the law and landowners in Louisiana,” said Pamela Spees, senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights. “BBP cannot be allowed to bulldoze over landowners’ rights in its greed and haste to build a pipeline for enormous private profit that could have disastrous effects on communities across the state, the environment, and the climate.”
For more information, visit the Center for Constitutional Rights’ case page.
The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.