When It Comes to Pipelines,
Kindness Works Best
Steven A. Davis • Principal Member of Sitterley, Vandervoort & Davis, Ltd. hese days, rather than go it alone with At Sitterley, Vandervoort & Davis, Ltd., we always ask whether a personal attorney, most landowners we have the ability to meet the landowner’s expectations. If band together as a group, choosing he comes to our firm wanting to receive a million dollars for one law firm to represent them with a very short run across his land, then we know we can never pipeline companies looking to acquire a right- achieve that for him. We cannot meet those expectations, of-way across their lands. Understandably, this can be an and, in the end, the landowner will be disappointed with our emotional, even painful, time. It is unsettling to think that a firm. Instead, we are frank with potential clients, letting them pipeline company can exert the power of eminent domain, know how we work, explaining that the key to our success is and just come in and take your land, very often failing to in the way we negotiate on their behalf. provide “just compensation” in line with the property’s true market value. The impression is that these companies are Past experience – more than two decades worth – has taught looking to make even more money for their billion-dollar us that our approach DOES work. We recommend a “pleasebusiness, leaving you, the little man, out in the cold. and-thank-you” tactic initially, recognizing that there is plenty of time to switch gears and change strategies. This approach For the landowner, this is an infuriating situation. While the sets landowner expectations, but, more importantly, gives the knee-jerk reaction may be to fight, to make it as difficult as pipeline company the opportunity to do the right thing right you can for the pipeline company, employing a “take-no- off the bat. It demonstrates that if we, the landowners, treat prisoners” attitude that is aggressive may not be the best you, the company, well, then you will treat us well, and with decision. respect. This avoids contentious, prolonged negotiations that, more often than not, please no one. Agricultural & Industrial Service & Repair Hoses
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We usually pose it this way, on our very first group meeting. “We know that you are frustrated, scared, even angry. But let’s put emotions aside and look at this in a way that will be most profitable for everyone. Are we going to the pipeline company and asking it to pay us for being rude and aggressive, or are we asking it to pay us for being cooperative?” The landowners accepted to our group, once they put emotions aside, usually decide that our way is the most logical and honest approach, and will get them the best possible deal. We have a lot of examples to back up our claims. Recently, these two basic, yet different, approaches stood out in stark contrast during negotiations with the Utopia pipeline in Ohio. Our landowners settled quickly on a reasonable rate per foot. Other groups in the same, or adjacent, counties, elected to aggressively litigate over the company’s power of eminent domain, some wanting more money, others just wanting the pipeline to go away. In the end, it was determined that Utopia did not have eminent domain, so rather than electing to pay off the litigants, the company decided to reroute its pipeline. This pleased everyone. However, since our landowners had cooperated and come to terms early on, they avoided months of stress and aggravation and were rewarded with settlements at the negotiated price, even though the pipeline was not crossing their land. Not so with the litigants. Many wound up with nothing.