By KEVIN AVARD
For months, we listened to the strong voices of property owners who opposed the Kinder Morgan pipeline, which would have traveled through 70 miles of the southern part of the state. They expressed concerns that their property would be taken by eminent domain, with little recourse and few protections in place if the project was approved.
Eminent domain is the right of the government to seize ownership over property when they determine it is for a greater good that can be created for its citizens. The United States requires “just compensation” for seizures of private property under the Fifth Amendment.
Understanding the concerns posed by my constituents and many other citizens in New Hampshire, we worked to develop legislation in HB 1660 that would provide new, critical state level protections for property owners from eminent domain. Our goal was to pass a New Hampshire-based plan to protect all property owners and give them the security they deserve to protect their property. Unfortunately, in a politically motivated move to disband this protection for homeowners, the work we had done on this bill did not pass a final vote.
Landowner protections are worth fighting for, and I plan to reintroduce this legislation right away next session. I will have the opportunity to create an even stronger bill and, if reelected, I pledge to lead the effort in passing this measure.
Despite the fact that the Kinder Morgan pipeline proposal has been withdrawn, this legislation would have been the right way to serve our state, balancing homeowner protections for eminent domain with responsible energy infrastructure.
These measures were introduced to establish greater protections for property owners who may be affected by the siting and construction of gas pipelines where the taking of property by eminent domain could be a factor. Federal law allows for the taking of property by eminent domain for construction if an energy infrastructure project, like Kinder Morgan, is deemed a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) reliability project. Since federal law supersedes state law, we crafted this legislation very carefully to try to avoid the federal government from preempting state level property protections.
The protections we outlined in this bill, and will reintroduce next year, would provide three major state level requirements aimed at preserving the rights of New Hampshire property owners that we believe would hold up to federal preemption.
First, when a proposed pipeline impacts a piece of private property, this legislation would enable a property owner the ability to demand a current, independent appraisal to determine the value of the property, with the appraisal paid for by the pipeline company.
Second, this bill would ensure homeowners payment for any relocation and legal expenses should they be subjected to eminent domain.
Third and most importantly, this bill would provide property owners with the option of requiring a pipeline company to take the entire tract of their land should the pipeline run within 250 feet of their home.
For most families, their home and property is the most valuable asset they have. It is only right that they are protected by the state of New Hampshire from federal eminent domain proceedings, and these protections would ensure that an individual or family is justly compensated if their property is taken in this way.
We fought hard and listened to our constituents who opposed the Kinder Morgan pipeline. The concerns raised by these property owners were well founded and prompted us to establish these protections against eminent domain. We are especially concerned by the political vote to kill this legislation because we strongly believe these protections specific to this legislation would withstand federal preemption should another pipeline project of this type be proposed in New Hampshire.
There should be responsible energy infrastructure growth in the state that will help to lower energy costs for ratepayers and businesses alike. But without the added protections this bill would have provided to property owners in our state, we cannot guarantee that they will receive just compensation and an independent appraisal value they deserve, plus damages, should their property be taken by eminent domain for the purpose of expanding our energy infrastructure.
Energy siting has had a huge impact across New Hampshire, and I will continue to fight for our property owners and responsible energy infrastructure.
Sen. Kevin Avard , R-Nashua, represents Senate District 12.
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