Farmers along proposed pipeline route fight eminent domain

“I’m a certified organic farm,” said Jacqueline Evans, co-owner of Haut Farm.

Jacqueline Evans has been running her farm for over five years, but she says she’s at risk of losing everything.

“We love our home, we don’t want to leave, and this is wrong. It’s for an unneeded pipeline,” she said.

In January, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, approved the PennEast natural gas pipeline, which would be built from the Marcellus Shale region of Pennsylvania into Mercer County, New Jersey. It’s a total stretch of 120 miles that go through Evans’ property and 700 more between the two states.

“I’m worried about arsenic contamination. My well is right here and they’re going right behind this barn, so that’s a huge concern. We’re in a high arsenic zone,” said Evans.

PennEast has reached agreements with more than half the affected landowners to compensate them for building the pipeline through their property, but Evans and her neighbors, T.C. and Joe Buchanan, are fighting to save the land that’s been in their family for over 50 years.

“All of those trespassing surveyors that have been on our property, Michigan, New York, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Florida, their license plates were from all over the place. Nobody was from New Jersey,” said T.C. Buchanan. “The unions are saying, were going to get jobs. If there are any jobs, it’s going to be temporary. They said it’s seven weeks to seven months maximum for workers, and in the meantime, they put all the farms out of business.”

The Buchanans fear either the wells will get contaminated, they’ll lose their orchard, or both.

“The company is going to make billions of dollars, and it’s going to cost the people, the consumers of New Jersey, the residents along the route, the farmers, even people that would purchase hay. All the hay fields that would be destroyed,” said Buchanan.

The PennEast Pipeline Company has now filed eminent domain notices in federal court to gain access to land owned by people who have refused compensation.

As of now, 92 lawsuits have been filed in New Jersey, and that number could go up.

“They’re also filing on the ability to use U.S. Marshals and force against us if we resist,” said Evans. “I don’t understand why they need to have U.S. Marshals with guns. I have little kids, they’ve been traumatized by this enough, so that took my breath away that they would do that, but it falls in line with how they’ve treated us all along.”

A spokesperson for the company called the legal proceedings a “last-resort option” to gain access to the remaining properties.

“PennEast is continuing to work with the majority of landowners to reach a fair agreement that compensates landowners for temporary and permanent impact,” a spokesperson for the company wrote in a statement. “With the exception of building structures or planting trees atop the right of way, they can continue to use their property as they normally would, including for farming.”

“Basically weeds will grow on top of there. You can’t grow healthy food substances on top of a toxic pipeline,” said Buchanan.

The company must still obtain permits from the Delaware River Basin Commission and from New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection, and they hope to have the pipeline operational in 2019.

But if the signs all around the area where the two families live are any indication, the fight is far from over.