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Columbia Gas Transmission, property owners file consent order

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Columbia Gas Transmission and two property owners have filed a consent order in a case alleging there could be damage to a pipeline and surrounding properties if owners didn't give access to an adjoining right of way.

Columbia filed its suit March 14 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia against Roger McCracken and Kathleen McCracken of Cameron.

In its suit, Columbia says it owns an interstate high-pressure natural gas transmission line known as Line 1360.  The suit states the line runs through Tim and Tamara Turley's adjoining property, pursuant to another right of way agreement.

Columbia alleged the property owners refused to permit the company to enter the adjoining Turley right of way.

Parties submitted an interim consent order March 22, saying the owners would permit Columbia to temporarily lay a plastic line on the surface within the right of way and the owners would not obstruct Columbia's access to the Turley right of way by way of their property.

"Nothing in this interim consent order shall be construed as a waiver of any rights, claims privileges or defenses of either Columbia or the McCrackens," the consent order states. "This parties herein covenant and agree that, as it relates to this consent order, time is of the essence."  

U.S. District Judge Frederick P. Stamp Jr. filed a subsequent order that same day, entering the parties' consent order and denying as moot Columbia's motion for temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction.

Columbia had moved for a temporary restraining order, seeking to prohibit the property owners from interfering with its property rights.

Columbia says both agreements set forth rights to lay, maintain and operate that pipeline. Additionally, Columbia asserts it has always used the McCrackens' right of way to access the Turley right of way to maintain that pipeline.

The suit asserts Consol is actively mining the Pittsburgh seam of coal under the McCracken and Turley rights of way using a longwall mining method.

The suit notes that longwall mining is a full extraction method that results in "predictable and controlled subsidence of the surface when coal is mined."

Columbia says Consol recently informed it that the longwall panels will reach the Pittsburgh seam under the rights of way in early June.

Columbia says if it doesn't take immediate steps to protect the pipeline, there could be damages including a rupture or explosion.

The suit states Columbia must remove trees and vegetative growth from the right of way, temporarily replace the buried steel pipeline with an above-ground plastic pipeline, rebury the pipeline after the subsidence has occurred and restore the affected surface.

The reason Columbia would want to rebury the pipeline after subsidence is because the ground collapses after longwall mining is complete.

"If Columbia's contractors are delayed, Columbia may not have sufficient time to take said precautionary steps and thereby prevent a catastrophe," Columbia's suit says.

Columbia states it recently started to clear trees on the McCrackens' property but additionally alleged the property owners refused to permit the company to enter the adjoining Turley right of way.

The company also alleged the McCrackens wouldn't allow it to lay a temporary plastic pipeline on the surface of their right of way.

Columbia also recently requested the court to enter a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction pending a final hearing. Columbia also requested a later  permanent injunction that directs the McCrackens not to interfere with Columbia's property rights.

The McCrackens have not yet filed a response.

In their answer to the complaint, the McCrackens said they had not obstructed Columbia in any way, additionally asserting Columbia did not have the right to access the Turley property by crossing over their property.

Their answer additionally argued Columbia has an alternate access to the Turley property by a formerly public road.

The McCrackens asked for dismissal of the suit, saying the court would need to establish the relative rights created by the right of way agreement.