Weld County’s Right-to-Farm Law upheld by county commissioners
April 2, 2019
Citing Weld County's right-to-farm ordinance, county commissioners voted unanimously March 27 to continue until Nov. 20 the application of Tallgrass Energy to build a 36-inch, high-pressure gas line from Wyoming through Weld County's prime farmland.
The reason given by the commissioners, who heard from farmers attending the hearing, is that harvest of crops will not be complete until early November. The commissioners also strongly encouraged Tallgrass to acquire voluntary easements, rather than acquiring them through condemnation.
The March 27 hearing was a continuance from Tallgrass Energy's request for a permit to build the pipeline at the Weld County Commissioner's meeting Dec. 12, 2018. The application was not approved at this meeting, because Tallgrass Energy had acquired less than half of the right-of-easements necessary to build the pipeline through private land.
"Commissioners in December made it very clear that Tallgrass would need to negotiate in good faith with farmers and get the vast majority, if not all easements, secured on a voluntary basis before commissioners would grant them the permit," said Marvin Bay, whose farm east of Eaton, Colo., will be affected. "Instead, two days after the hearing, Tallgrass mailed remaining landowners a 'last and final offer,' along with a letter which told them they would move to condemn those who did not accept their offer."
By the end of January, Tallgrass Energy had filed immediate possession suits against 54 landowners as part of a condemnation action to acquire forced easements. Trials in Greeley's district courts for 17 landowners have been held to date with the remaining trials scheduled for the next several weeks. The judge ruled recently to give Tallgrass immediate possession of the easements on properties in the first round of cases.
"A lot of the landowners being condemned are pro gas and oil, and many of us have pipelines through our farms where we have negotiated mutually satisfactory easement agreements with pipeline companies. All we're looking for with this negotiation are similar terms," said Tom Karlberg, who is a defendant in one of Tallgrass Energy's 54 condemnation cases. "Tallgrass has total disregard and lack of understanding of irrigated farming. They propose to pay us for a small strip through our farms without compensating us for the impact on the entire farm."
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In the first immediate possession hearing March 20, Tallgrass Energy, in defending its business reasons for the court action, stated it would lose revenue of $3.5-4.5 million for each month that gas does not flow through the pipeline.
"All Tallgrass would have to do is divert the money it will lose from the delay to compensate landowners fairly," said Bay.
"The market value of easements has been set by other pipeline companies through good faith negotiations and voluntary deals with the landowners," said Gary Booth, Booth Land & Livestock Company, Lucerne, Colo. "Tallgrass takes the position these established values aren't relevant and offers substantially less. Their incredible power to condemn land for their easements puts the landowner in a difficult bargaining position." ❖