An eminent domain lawsuit filed by gas company Viking Oil and Gas in 2007 recently went to trial, but action in the case has stalled while the judge deliberates on a ruling. The company also has filed an amended complaint.
The company filed suit two years ago against Steve and Amy Milam, of Richardsville, contending that Viking has ownership of the easement on an underground gas pipeline that passes beneath the Milams’ property.
The pipeline itself was part of a 96-mile system built in the 1980s by Pride Energy Corp., a company that went into bankruptcy and no longer exists.
Viking Energy wanted to reactivate and re-engineer the pipeline system to gather, clean and transport natural gas to a pipeline system belonging to Atmos Energy, and has claimed that the easements that once belonged to Pride were transferred to Viking, now doing business as Kentucky Blue Gas, through a master commissioner’s sale in Warren Circuit Court.
Not so, according to Glasgow attorney Jeff Herbert, representing the Milams in the case.
“The easements contained a provision that they terminated when the pipeline had been abandoned for two years,” Herbert said, arguing that ownership of the pipeline should have reverted to the Milams.
Viking, which filed an amended complaint earlier this month that asserts nothing different but changes the name of the plaintiff from Viking Energy Holdings to Viking Oil and Gas, has asserted that it assumed the easements when it purchased the system, Herbert said.
Dan Thomas, an attorney from Hopkinsville representing the energy company, did not return calls seeking comment.
Kentucky Blue Gas representatives did not respond to requests for comment.
According to court documents, Viking resorted to eminent domain lawsuits with a few property owners after negotiations resulting in offers to purchase the pipelines from owners were rejected.
“Viking is not using condemnations to take physical property away,” a company newsletter that is part of the case file states. “The pipeline already exists and in most cases will only require minimal maintenance to place it into full operation. The court actions are to affirm Viking’s existing rights to enter the properties in order to operate and maintain its system in accordance with new state regulations.”
All the lawsuits filed by Viking against the property owners have been settled except for the one against the Milams.
Court documents indicate that the Milams were offered a check for $2,583.35 - $1 per linear foot of easement on the property - in 2006.
Most of the correspondence leading up to the lawsuit was between the Milams and Michael Parsley, chief operating manager for Viking, who is no longer with the company.
The offer was declined and the Milams went to court.
“The laws are real vague; no law should allow a private company to file eminent domain,” Steve Milam said. “This is taking my land so they can make money, that’s what it boils down to.”
Eminent domain is often a right that governments claim when taking possession of land for public use, normally for the construction of roads, government buildings or some kind of public infrastructure.
Herbert said that private companies do have the right of eminent domain in certain circumstances, such as when a privately owned utility or railroad is legally classified as a “common carrier” in the regular business of transporting people or freight.
The situation involving Viking is one that does not fit the criteria, with Herbert arguing that the company’s pipeline does not give them common carrier status.
“We’re saying that they don’t fall within the class of companies given the right of eminent domain,” Herbert said.
A two-day bench trial held recently before Warren Circuit Judge John Grise allowed both sides to make their arguments, and Milam and Viking representatives testified.
Herbert said that with the amended complaint filed earlier this month, a status hearing has been set for the case in December to allow him time to present any additional evidence.