Judge Awards Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline Builder Rights to Seize Last 5 Holdout Properties, Including Nun's Land
Builders of the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline now possess the five remaining holdout properties in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, following a federal judge's decision Wednesday.
The ruling from Judge Jeffrey Schmehl granted Transcontinental Pipe Line Co.'s (Transco) motion to condemn the rights of way on the properties and granted the company immediate possession of the land, Lancaster Online reports. This includes land owned by the Adorers of the Blood of Christ near the town of Columbia.
The order of Catholic nuns consider the fracked gas pipeline—a project of Oklahoma-based pipeline developer and Transco owner Williams Partners—a violation of their beliefs and environmental values.
Last month, the Adorers and their fellow pipeline opponents built an open-air chapel on a strip of the nun's farmland where the pipeline is set to go through to fight the fossil fuel company's efforts to seize the land.
"We are disappointed that the federal judge today made the decision to condemn the rights of way and grant immediate possession of our (and others') property in Lancaster County to the Transcontinental Pipe Line Co. for the Atlantic Sunrise gas pipeline project," the nuns said in a statement.
"We will be evaluating our next steps."
Williams Partners said the chapel does not have to be removed immediately but will eventually have to be relocated before pipeline construction.
Dwight Yoder, a lawyer for the nuns, declined Lancaster Online's request to comment on Wednesday's ruling but noted the limited right for appeal in eminent domain cases.
Meanwhile, the nuns' lawsuit against the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is still pending. The nuns claim that the interstate natural gas pipeline violates their rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, as it "places a substantial burden on their exercise of religion by taking their land, which they want to protect and preserve as part of their faith, and forces the Adorers to use their land in a manner and for a purpose they believe is harmful to the Earth."
The four other condemned properties are in the Conestoga and Manor townships. They are owned by Stephen Hoffman, Hilltop Hollow Partnership, Blair and Megan Mohn and Lynda Like, none of whom have granted easements for right of way for pipeline construction.
According to a statement issued by Williams Partners, the judge's order means pipeline construction can begin in a timely fashion "pending receipt of the last remaining state and federal clearances expected in the coming weeks."
"We now have possession of the last remaining right of ways needed for the project," the statement continued. "As we move closer to construction, we are committed to continuing the dialogue we've established, treating all of our Atlantic Sunrise landowners with respect and courtesy throughout the construction process and once the pipeline becomes operational.
"It is important to stress that landowners still retain ownership of their property and are fairly compensated for the easement. The easement only gives us the limited right to install and operate the pipeline. Use of the land, with certain limitations, can remain the same as before construction."