SW Legal studies in Business

Tree Removal from Pipeline Right-of-Way Easement Must Weigh All Issues
Description

Appeals court held that gas pipeline companies would be prevented from removing trees growing on an easement until a trial could determine if tree removal was really necessary for safety and pipeline maintenance.

Topic Real and Personal Property
Key Words

Easement; Right of Way; Tree Removal; Gas Pipelines

C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts

Two gas companies maintain three high-pressure, natural gas pipelines beneath a street. The companies have had right-of-way easements since 1944. A housing development was built in the area in the 1960s. In 2000, the companies announced they would remove about 80 trees along the right of way to better maintain the pipelines. The homeowners and their town sued for an injunction to prohibit tree removal. The gas companies sued to prohibit interference with the easements. The district court held for the homeowners, ruling that removing the trees was not necessary to maintain the pipelines. The gas companies appealed.

Decision

Affirmed. There are facts that should be settled at trial to determine the issue. In the meantime, the injunction against tree removal will remain in place. The questions to be answered at trial include if aerial surveillance is necessary to maintain the pipelines, if the trees prevent an operator from quick access to the pipes in case of an emergency, if tree root growth poses a threat to the integrity of the pipelines. Removal of the trees would adversely affect the homeowners’ interests, so there must be a review of all issues. Further, the standards of gas pipeline safety have changed since the easements were granted, so they will be taken into account at trial.

Citation

Township of Piscataway v. Duke Energy, 488 F.3d 203 (3rd Cir., 2007)

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