Federal court can’t decide pipeline easement in Hancock, says attorney general

by Kate Shunney

In a June 17 filing to the U.S. District Court, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh claims that the federal court has no power to hear an eminent domain gas between Columbia Gas and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Columbia Gas has proposed a 3.4-mile transmission line from Fulton County, Pa. through the Hancock area, and under the Potomac River to reach a new gas pipeline in Morgan County, W.Va.

In January, Maryland officials on the Board of Public Works denied the gas company access to a .12-acre tract of land along a proposed natural gas pipeline route in Hancock.

That tract of land is attached to the Western Maryland Rail Trail west of town.

Columbia Gas officials filed a condemnation case against the DNR in May, seeking immediate access to the property along the Western Maryland Rail Trail. The pipeline would run under the trail and would not disturb the surface of the trail, the company has said.

Attorney General Frosh, in an 11-page memorandum, put forth an argument that the federal court has to dismiss Columbia Gas’ case against Maryland.

In his memo, Frosh argues that the federal government has no jurisdiction in the case because Maryland has “sovereign immunity” and is not subject to lawsuits by citizens of another state or where the state is acting within its normal powers.

Frosh’s motion argues that the federal government could sue Maryland on the basis of land condemnation for a public use, but a private company like Columbia Gas cannot.

Frosh argues that the U.S. District Court has no jurisdiction to hear the land condemnation case from Columbia Gas because the matter of access to Maryland-owned land is only to be decided by the state and its representatives.

Columbia Gas has said it needs easements across four parcels of land in order to build the gas pipeline. Those include the parcel along the Western Maryland Rail Trail and three others, owned by the National Park Service and part of the C&O Canal National Historical Park.