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Judge dismisses case over western Md. natural gas pipeline

A corporation cannot sue Maryland for condemnation of land for a natural gas pipeline, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

Columbia Gas Transmission LLC filed a lawsuit in May asking a judge to condemn property near Hagerstown after the Maryland Board of Public Works refused to grant permission to the company to drill under the Western Maryland Trail.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge George L. Russell III ruled the court did not have subject matter jurisdiction over the case because the state and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources cannot be sued for condemnation because of Eleventh Amendment immunity.

Russell ruled from the bench Wednesday and issued a written order Thursday dismissing the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

“We are pleased that the court has agreed that a private pipeline company cannot force the state to accept a pipeline under the Western Maryland Rail Trail,” Attorney General Brian E. Frosh said in a statement. “We will continue to defend Maryland’s right to control its public lands against any other efforts by the natural gas industry to move forward with this project.”

The pipeline would run from Pennsylvania to West Virginia and Columbia Gas would need to purchase the right to drill under state land near Hagerstown.

Columbia Gas, which is owned by TransCanada Corp., had obtained a certificate of public convenience and necessity from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which gives it the power to condemn land, but the Board of Public Works unanimously voted to block the sale of the easement in January after protests from environmental groups and legislators.

Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot, one of the three board members, said after the vote that he agreed with opponents who claimed the project would “subject our state to all the environmental problems of this pipeline and get none of the economic benefits.”

The tract of land owned by the state is one of the final pieces for which Columbia Gas still needs an easement, according to the complaint filed May 16. Columbia Gas was offering $5,000 in return for the right to use the land. When the company was unable to negotiate, it filed suit.

A spokesperson for TransCanada did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

The case is Columbia Gas Transmission LLC v. .12 Acres of Land et al., 1:19-cv-01444.

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