LAKE COUNTY FLORIDA –
Orange and white markers poke out of the ground in rural Lake County, dotting the countryside in a line that stretches like dominos from Alabama to Intercession City in Osceola County.
The marks show where the Sabal Trail pipeline is buried. Between 3 and 5 feet below the surface, the massive 515-mile pipeline pumps 1.1 billion cubic feet of natural gas every day, servicing two power plants, with a third planned.
Between 3 and 5 feet below the surface, the massive 515-mile pipeline pumps 1.1 billion cubic feet of natural gas every day, servicing two power plants, with a third planned.
The project, 5 years in the making, required more than 1,500 land acquisitions along the way.
Some land was taken before construction, other parcels are still being negotiated, even though the pipeline is already up and running.
“We’re still negotiating and they’re telling us, they’re coming across,” says Martha Brack, owner of Triangle Nursery. “They broke ground in October and by December it was covered.”
Brack lost 1.6 acres to the pipeline.
The land has been used by her nursery to grow plants for landscaping. Now because of the buried line, she can’t grow anything above the pipeline easement.
The lost land could produce up to $1 million worth of products a year, but now it’s vacant, Brack said.
“You have to fight the economy, you have to fight competitors, you have to fight the atmosphere and the weather and then you have to fight the federal government,” Brack said.
Sabal Trail, like other pipelines before it, went through the federal court system to exercise eminent domain.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission authorized the pipeline in 2015.
Under the federal system, once the pipeline has been approved, there is virtually nothing landowners can do to stop their property from being taken.
In the case of Sabal Trail, at least a dozen parcels are still tied up in the courts even though construction has been completed.
“What the pipeline companies have done over the years is they’ve invented this inverted injunction, which prevents the land owners from kicking them off the property,” says eminent domain attorney Nick Dancaescu of the law firm Gray-Robinson. “This is kind of an unusual practice that the federal courts are allowing when it’s not statutory or anything.”
Dancaescu handled Brack’s case.
He also handled the case of Dave Sloan, whose family has lived on its Lake County land for the last three generations.
“Once they started there’s not a whole lot you can do with it. We tried to change the course of it, but there’s nothing you can do about it,” Sloan said. “You have no control over it whatsoever.”