Just over nine years ago, the United States Supreme Court handed down a decision that threw the very notion of private property ownership into question. The 5-4 decision in Kelo v. City of New London broadened the scope by which cities, counties, and states could seize private lands for public use. Justices Stevens, Breyer, Souter, Bader Ginsburg, and Kennedy, citing the “takings clause” in the Fifth Amendment, ruled that “for public use” was not just for general city improvements or the building of government buildings. The City of New London was trying to clear out the working class enclave for a large private development that would complement a recent relocation to the city by Pfizer Pharmaceuticals.
In the wake of Kelo v. City of New London, several states immediately introduced, passed, and enacted legislation that offered greater protections to private landholder citizens of their states. Unfortunately for many residents of New York state, their legislature was unable to get these protections passed and now they are finding themselves at the beginning of a shooting war with a shale gas pipeline developer who has issued threatening letters to individuals who are holding out on providing their rights of way consent for the Constitution Pipeline. Pennsylvania, which did pass landholder protections, will likely find those measures soon challenged as residents of that state received the same threatening literature.
Albany’s Times Union was able to obtain a copy of the letter which informed the holdout property owners that their continued refusal would only be tolerated until Wednesday, when the pipeline developers intend to file in court for a forcible sale of rights of way for possibly less money than is currently being offered.
Additionally, the letter warned that survey crews will be able to show up on the private property Thursday, even without owner’s permission. This, says the company’s law firm, Saul Ewing, is because they intend to begin construction early next year and have the pipeline fully operational by the winter of 2015 or 2016.