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By Carmen Ensinger
After more than two years of negotiations over damages to county roads cause by Spire Stl. in the construction of a 65-mile natural gas pipeline that stretched from Scott County through Greene, Jersey and down into St. Louis County to delivery natural gas to the St. Louis area, the County has reached a settlement on damages.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) gave Spire approval to the project in August 2018 by a narrow 3-2 vote and construction on the pipeline began shortly thereafter. The pipeline went online in November 2019.
However, Spire left a trail of damages to county roads and local farm land after the pipeline’s installation and refused to repair the roads or make repairs to the farmland.
The County had originally asked for a settlement of around $2 million to cover the damages to the county roads. The board sought outside legal council for this matter and earlier this year, decided to join the local Townships who had hired an attorney on a contingency basis.
Greg Ray, with the firm of Craig and Craig, LLC of Mattoon, presented an offer from Spire in the amount of $825,000 and suggested the county accept the offer at the Aug. 11 County Board meeting.
“I have exchanged emails at least weekly for the last month and a half with Spire’s legal department personnel and am able, finally, to report some actual progress,” he said in an email to Greene County States Attorney Caleb Briscoe. “On Aug. 6, an offer of $825,000 was made to cover all issues relating to the Road Use and Maintenance Agreement that is the underlying document to support the claims being made by the County and Highway Commissioners for damage.”
Ray went on to say that this is an increase of a little more than $166,800 over their last offer. Also, in their last letter they referred to this offer as a “black box” offer which, while he has never actually ran across the term before, thinks means they are drawing a line in the sand.
While Briscoe was not in attendance at the Aug. 11 County Board meeting, he did send an email with his suggestion to the board.
“Obviously, we didn’t get everything we wanted, but rarely does that ever happen in situations like this,” Briscoe said. “This is less than what we had originally asked for, but we have been going back and forth with them for quite some time and all of the Townships were in agreement with the offer and we were the only one to not accept the offer yet.”
Briscoe said in talking with former County Highway Engineer David Marth, this money will go a long way in taking care of the damage that Spire and their sub-contractor, Michaels, caused to the county roads during construction of the pipeline.
“Hopefully, by accepting this settlement, this will put this behind us now and allow us to focus on the future of the county and move forward with the betterment of the county,” Briscoe said.
While the attorney was working on a contingency basis and stood to receive 25 percent of the settlement, which would have been $206,250, Ray said that he would limit his attorney fee charge, including expenses, to just $24,000, rather than the 25 percent.
This leaves $801,000 to be distributed between Greene County, Roodhouse, White Hall, Carrollton and Kane Townships. Based on the damage in each township, the bulk of the money will go to White Hall Township with 35.43 percent of the funds or, $283,794.30 earmarked for them.
Roodhouse is second in line to receive 30.29 percent of the funds or $242,622.90 with the County coming in third with 15.26 percent or $122,232.60. Carrollton Township is a close fourth with 14.95 percent of the funds at $119,749.50 while Kane Township will receive 4.07 percent of the funds or $32,600.70.
Ray said that given the legal quagmire that Spire is now facing he was concerned they would even get an offer.
“When the Court of Appeals in Chicago issued its ruling earlier this summer that basically found that FERC failed to properly follow legal requirements to authorize the pipeline, I was greatly concerned that we would get an offer at all from Spire,” he said. “Let alone one that was in the range I had anticipated.”
On June 22, the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit vacated a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity issued by FERC to Spire to construct the pipeline. Basically, the court ruled that Spire didn’t prove that the region needed the pipeline. The narrow 3-2 passage by FERC in Aug. 2018 tends to uphold that question by at least some of the FERC commissioners as well.