Sabal Trail has lost a battle. Read the good news below.
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-
Jury awards $1.3M in Sabal Trail suit
By Andrew Caplan
Sabal Trail Transmission was back in federal court in Friday to defend its controversial $3 billion project and the offers it made to a pair of landowners for uprooting and burying a natural gas pipeline on their property.
That didn’t go over so well.
A 12-member jury in Gainesville awarded Levy County residents Lee Thomas and his son, Ryan, more than $1.3 million for land that Sabal Trail built its pipeline on. The company previously offered the family a combined $39,100.
“I was happy to see that we came out on top,” Thomas said. “It’s been a long ordeal.”
Sabal Trail spokeswoman Andrea Grover would not say if the company will appeal the jury’s award but said the company is weighing its legal options. She would not comment on the original offers.
In 2016, Sabal Trail Transmission began building its 515-mile natural gas pipeline through parts of Alabama, Georgia and into Central Florida.
The $3.2 billion project was a joint venture between Florida Power and Light, Spectra Energy and Duke Energy.
The company sued more than 250 landowners through eminent domain, gaining access to their property to build, and crossed about 370 bodies of water throughout construction of the pipeline, which was met with outrage and protests from environmentalists. Throughout North Central Florida, the pipeline affected residents living in rural parts of Levy, Gilchrist, Marion and Alachua counties.
Those who didn’t take the company’s initial offers were sued and lost rights to the land without compensation. Landowners who pushed back in court, like the Thomas family, have won significantly more money than the company offered.
“They didn’t think our land was worth as much as we thought it was worth,” Thomas said. “They don’t realize all the work that goes
The Thomas family has an 837-acre farm in Williston, which is located next to a 40-acre residential property, at 11151 NE 35th St.
Thomas, 74, said his son works full time on the farm, mostly growing watermelon and peanuts. Construction of the pipeline, he said, caused them to lose roughly $700,000 in crops. Contractors also cut down 25 large oak trees.
Sabal Trail representatives asserted that the company would work with landowners who had legitimate concerns about the pipeline’s placement, though Thomas said that didn’t happen.
“They did not work with us hardly at all,” he said.
Now, he says, company representatives, trucks and planes frequently show up or fly over to check on the easement to ensure there are no problems.
“We bought the property because we wanted privacy, now there’s no privacy at all,” Thomas said. “They can come right through here anytime. You never know who is going to be on your property. For the rest of our lives we’re going to have people coming down that easement.”
Thomas hired Jacksonville- based Brigham Property Rights Law Firm and Gainesville attorney Bill Crispin.
Throughout the pipeline’s construction, Sabal Trail has argued it has federal eminent domain power under the Natural Gas Act as a private, forprofit company.
Attorney Andrew Brigham, however, successfully argued that landowners in Florida must abide by state property laws, not federal. Brigham said the difference is significant in that the U.S. Constitution requires payment of “just compensation,” whereas state law requires “full compensation.”
In April, Brigham also helped a Lake County resident earn $309,500, nearly four times the amount Sabal Trail initially offered.
The case was settled in a federal court in Ocala. Sabal Trail is appealing that ruling.
Brigham said he has about 50 other clients and about 30 other similar cases challenging Sabal Trail’s offers.
A federal court in Georgia also took a landowner’s side back in June. The court awarded a landowner about $108,000 after they rejected Sabal Trail’s $24,000 offer.