Gas company must pay family $600,000 for installing line

Built line without property owners' OK

bestep@herald-leader.comAugust 24, 2011 

Jurors in Knott County have ruled that a natural-gas company should pay more than $600,000 for building a transmission line across a family's property without permission.

The jury awarded the family $64,490 in compensation and $600,000 to punish Chesapeake Appalachia LLC for its conduct, said Lexington attorney Joe F. Childers, who represented the family.

Childers said he had asked the jury for a significant punitive-damage award to send a message that gas companies must treat Eastern Kentucky landowners fairly. Chesapeake Appalachia is a division of Chesapeake Energy Corp., of Oklahoma City, one of the largest natural-gas companies in the nation.

"We were happy with it," he said of the judgment.

The company's attorney, Leigh Gross Latherow, referred questions about an appeal to Chesapeake Appalachia. A spokesman did not respond to an inquiry.

Chesapeake Appalachia laid an 890-foot-long section of pipeline in 2007 across property near Carr Creek Lake jointly owned by several family members, including brothers Will and Sam Collins of Letcher County.

No one lives on the property.

Childers said company officials said they first thought they were building on property owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which operates the lake.

However, Sam Collins notified the company before the line was done that it was on private property and asked Chesapeake to stop construction. The company didn't stop, Childers said.

The line was meant to tie a Chesapeake compressor station, which drew in gas from wells in the area, into an interstate transmission line owned by Columbia Gas Transmission.

However, when Columbia learned that there was a dispute over the line, it refused to let Chesapeake tie into the line, Childers said.

Chesapeake sued, claiming it had leases that allowed it to build the line. The property owners countersued.

A judge ruled that Chesapeake had trespassed on the family's land by laying the line without permission, Childers said.

And the jury ruled that the compressor station, which has a loud engine and runs 24 hours a day, constituted a public nuisance and had diminished the value of the family's land near the station, Childers said.

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