Sabal Trail Pipeline Seizes Florida Properties

Article From Orlando Sentinel

By: Paul Brinkman

For the vast majority of property owners along the path of the Sabal Trail pipeline, it’s all over but the crying — and arguments about money.

Judges in the Central Florida cases have now issued preliminary injunctions handing most of the properties over to the pipeline.

About 25 properties in Central Florida, and 135 more in the Southeast, were hit by eminent-domain federal lawsuits filed in March by the pipeline company. Overseen by Sabal Trail Transmission LLC, the pipeline is a joint venture of Spectra Energy Corp., NextEra Energy Inc. (owner of FPL) and Duke Energy.

“In almost every case, the argument going forward will be about the value of the property,” said Nick Dancaescu, an attorney who is representing property owners in 41 pipeline cases. “Voluntary full settlements are also happening, where the owner has agreed to a price outside of the lawsuits even after they were filed.”

One property in Osceola County, where developers envisioned more than 2,400 homes for the proposed Greenpointe Communities, could be subject to a lot of dispute about value.

The pipeline will slice through the middle of the proposed development near Intercession City.

“They have the federal right to seize the property. We had spent months trying to get them to move the pipeline, but we’ve given up the battle on that. I have signed a letter to allow them to enter our property,” said Gerald McGratty, a court-appointed receiver who oversees the property, also known as BK Ranches.

According to McGratty, “We had a buyer for the property, and they walked away, because of the pipeline.”

He said Sabal Trail offered him $600,000 for the property, but he thinks it has caused him millions of dollars in losses. So far, only $448,000 has been paid by Sabal into an escrow account.

One concession that McGratty said he did get: An agreement to bury the pipeline deeper in some parts so roads and utilities can cross it.

The project, called the Sabal Trail Transmission pipeline, targeted 25 properties in Central Florida, mostly in Osceola County.

Fitness celebrity Brenda Dykgraff was another target in a lawsuit. But she simply sold easements to the pipeline over her property near Reunion, according to public records, which indicated two easements running over two acres, sold for about $84,000.

The pipeline company insisted that it already has federal authority to seize the property under the Natural Gas Act. Sabal claimed its project must be under construction by June this summer and in service, by May 1, 2017.

According to maps provided by the utilities, the Sabal pipeline will come through the Four Corners area of northwestern Osceola County, dip south of Walt Disney World property, cross Interstate 4 near Celebration and connect with a hub of pipelines just west of Reunion Resort Golf Course.

The Greenpointe property is one of the biggest properties targeted in Central Florida. The Sabal Trail Transmission project is seeking almost 20 acres for a 50-foot wide easement through the 1,000-acre ranch.

The utilities claim that the underground pipeline will bring “additional affordable, clean natural gas supplies to Florida, while increasing the reliability of the region’s energy delivery system and positively impacting the economy in the Southeast region of the United States, specifically Alabama, Florida and Georgia.” The utilities also point out that the project will immediately create jobs.

In Central Florida, a connecting pipeline will head south from the hub near Reunion, and another spoke will connect to the Hunter’s Creek area.