New Jersey Conservation Foundation joined Homeowners Against Land Taking (HALT) PennEast and several individual homeowners today in filing litigation in Superior Court in Hunterdon County against the PennEast Pipeline Company.
“We are seeking an injunction against PennEast for trespassing on preserved and private lands and are asking the court to prevent PennEast from using illegally obtained data in their effort to seek regulatory approval for an unneeded and damaging pipeline,” explained Tom Gilbert, campaign director for New Jersey Conservation Foundation.
The complaint was filed in response to repeated acts of trespassing by PennEast in Hunterdon and Mercer counties. All acts took place in New Jersey and are explicitly unlawful as governed by state law. In New Jersey, the law is clear: PennEast’s action in entering someone else’s land without their consent is unlawful trespassing.
To stop PennEast’s illegal conduct, plaintiffs have asked the court to protect their property rights—and the rights of others threatened by PennEast—by barring further trespassing and the use of any unlawfully obtained information. Stopping PennEast’s unlawful entries is essential, but so is preventing PennEast from utilizing the fruits of its past misconduct for its own benefit and to the detriment of landowners.
“We are doing what any landowner anywhere would do, when faced with repeated invasions of their property rights,” said Jacqueline Evans, a founding member of HALT PennEast and a plaintiff. “Opinions on natural gas pipelines do not matter in this case. What matters here is that PennEast ignored landowner rights, our written direction not to enter private property, and our express denials of permission to survey.”
“We have documentation that PennEast surveyors trespassed on the Copper Creek Preserve in Kingwood Township, which we own along with other partners,” said Michele S. Byers, Executive Director of New Jersey Conservation Foundation. “It is our mission and responsibility to protect these lands and natural resources for the public, and we are taking this action to prevent future trespassing and damage on preserved lands by PennEast.”
“Over the past year and a half, we have lived with continuous anxiety from PennEast surveyors sneaking or just blatantly walking onto our property,” said plaintiff T.C. Buchanan. “I would leave my home and get calls from neighbors that they were back. All this has happened while PennEast continues to broadcast their outright false claims that they are working with homeowners.”
“As a homeowner group, HALT is taking PennEast to court to protect our properties and our fundamental property rights against PennEast’s consistent, unlawful, and inappropriate actions of trespassing and harassment of our homes, farms, and land,” said Vince DiBianca, Trustee on the HALT PennEast Board. “This is a critical step in a comprehensive case we’re building with our allies to stop this unwanted, unneeded, and harmful proposed pipeline.”
“Despite how PennEast acts, approval of this pipeline project is not a done deal and landowners retain their fundamental right to prevent unconsented entry,” said Laura Wilson, president of HALT PennEast. “Now we need a New Jersey court to stop PennEast’s outrageous, lawless conduct.”
In fact, PennEast has admitted violating the law. Too frequently, and for too long, PennEast has ignored landowner direction and taken what it wanted. Objectors state that PennEast’s actions show a pattern of abusing landowners’ rights and that, without legal action, the nearly 70% of New Jersey landowners who have denied PennEast permission to access their land remain at risk of further acts of trespassing by PennEast.
Steven Richardson, a partner in Wiley Rein LLP’s Environment & Safety Practice in Washington, DC, represents HALT PennEast—a fast-growing nonprofit organization comprised of more than 300 homeowners in New Jersey’s Hunterdon and Mercer counties whose homes, farms, and livelihoods are directly threatened by PennEast’s proposed pipeline route. HALT PennEast is expanding into Pennsylvania to include many of the more than 800 homeowners directly impacted in Luzerne, Northampton, Carbon, and Bucks counties.
The following statement can be attributed to Mr. Richardson:
“FERC has not and cannot authorize PennEast to access private lands for civil surveys. In fact, FERC directed PennEast to only survey lands where permissions could be voluntarily obtained from landowners. In the face of federal, state, and industry directives requiring landowner consent as its only option, PennEast simply ignored whether it had consent and entered lands when it wished to do so.
“PennEast has incentives to enter property for surveys, even without consent; the surveys are a prerequisite to approval of its Application for an interstate natural gas pipeline that will put money in PennEast’s pockets. On Friday, April 29, FERC issued another direction to PennEast to submit ‘complete’ information to it within 15 days. This underscores the timeliness of the trespass relief the landowners need to prevent PennEast stepping up its unlawful campaign.
“New Jersey homeowners are organized, know their property rights, and are taking legal action now because the past trespasses have harmed landowners and the threat of additional trespasses is growing as PennEast approaches the deadline to finish conducting surveys.
“The harm is not limited to the representative parties in the lawsuit. It also includes the hundreds of other New Jersey and Pennsylvania landowners in the pipeline pathway, many of whom are members of HALT PennEast. PennEast’s surveyors have trespassed without consent, and the reality is that PennEast orders surveys, controls where they are done, and benefits from any information obtained. The plaintiffs’ complaint asks the court to make PennEast take responsibility for its trespasses and to stop PennEast’s pattern of trespassing permanently.”
New Jersey Conservation Foundation is a private non-profit organization whose mission is to preserve land and natural resources throughout New Jersey. Since 1960, the Foundation has protected 125,000 acres of open space, farmland and parks. For more information about New Jersey Conservation Foundation and its programs and preserves, visit www.njconservation.org.