October 20, 2014

Medina
Intermittent clouds
46°F

Gas utility seeks land in Lafayette, Litchfield townships

About 100 residents in Lafayette and Litchfield townships have received letters in the last week from Columbia Gas Transmission seeking to store natural gas beneath their property.

Columbia owns and operates 11 gas storage fields in Ohio, including the Wellington field that covers parts of Medina and Lorain counties.

Cavities between rock formations, left empty after gas is extracted through drilling, frequently are used to store natural gas extracted elsewhere. Gas is stored during low-usage times like summer and withdrawn when it is needed as temperatures drop.

The letter from Columbia says it intends to buy the land for $50 an acre and a one-time $200 incentive. It also says if the landowner does not respond by Friday, Columbia will “proceed with an alternative acquisition process pursuant to the Natural Gas Act.”

Lafayette Township Trustee Lynda Bowers said that means Columbia Gas plans to file a claim to obtain the easement through eminent domain, the legal process by which a public utility seizes private property for public or civic use.

Bowers said she’s worried landowners don’t know their rights and that the gas company was offering too little money.

“The case for eminent domain must be based on landowner’s refusal to negotiate,” she said. “If you offer them a ridiculously small amount of money and a ridiculously small amount of time, odds are they’re going to refuse.”

One man on Crow Road was offered $371 for his roughly 3.5 acres, she said.

Ellen Partridge, a spokeswoman for Columbia Gas, said the letters were sent as part of a program “to update our records and ensure we obtain the land rights necessary to operate and maintain natural gas storage fields in that region.

“We look forward to working with these landowners,” Partridge said, adding that “given that this is a legal transaction, these landowners should seek legal counsel and reach out to the Columbia land representative whose contact information is provided in the letter.”

Bowers agreed that property owners should seek the advice of attorneys, noting that a class-action lawsuit has been filed against Columbia Gas charging that property values have been damaged by gas storage.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court, Southern District, Eastern Division, in Columbus, states that Columbia Gas has been using land for storage for decades without a lease or eminent domain order, a violation of individual’s Fifth Amendment rights.

Among the plaintiffs are four Medina companies and five individual Medina County landowners: three in Spencer Township and one each in York and Litchfield townships.

Attorney John Keller, of Vorys Law Firm in Columbus, represents the plaintiffs. He said gas storage can make drilling for gas or oil more expensive and less attractive to oil companies, thereby compromising a landowner’s ability to lease or access minerals.

Columbia filed a countersuit, contending that the landowners refused to negotiate.

One of the Spencer Township property owners in the suit, William Ensign, of 11680 Smith Road, declined to comment on the specifics of the suit.

“It’s just really unfair that we have to go through this,” he said. “Columbia is drawing us into a battle we don’t want.”

Contact reporter Dan Pompili at (330) 721-4012 or dpompili@medina-gazette.com.