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UPDATE: Judge will issue written ruling next week in Bayou Bridge Pipeline lawsuit

Testimony on day three of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline eminent domain trial wrapped Thursday morning after Judge Keith Comeaux heard testimony from landowner Katherine Aaslestad as she was cross-examined by attorneys for both Bayou Bridge Pipeline and the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Comeaux said he would take the testimony into consideration and issue a written ruling sometime next week after making his decision.


 

Testimony continued on Wednesday in the Bayou Bridge Pipeline eminent domain lawsuit in the 16th Judicial District Court in St. Martin Parish.

Judge Keith Comeaux heard testimony today from officials from Energy Transfer Partners and property owners in the Atchafalaya Basin who are suing to stop the pipeline’s construction.

Representing those landowners are attorneys for the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper who claim that ETP violated constitutional law by excavating and building on a 38-acre parcel of land in the basin without getting proper legal consent from the individual landowners.  

The first to take the stand this morning was Michael Avelle, environmental Projects Director for Energy Transfer Partners. Avelle was asked by the defense about his knowledge of the spoil banks on the 38-acre tract of land at the heart of the lawsuit.

Defense attorneys representing Bayou Bridge Pipeline offered Avelle as a rebuttal to testimony heard in court yesterday from Scott Eustis, community science director of Gulf Restoration Network.

“Energy Transfer Partners engineered their pipeline to be built in an existing spoil bank that’s about eight feet high. So, if they bury a pipeline five feet deep in an eight-foot hill that pipeline is above the surface of the wetlands,” Eustis told KATC yesterday just before he testified. “The spoil banks ruin these habitats for crawfish and fish because they block the flow of water and the oxygen drops out of the water. You can’t have fish or crawfish if you don’t have oxygen in the water.”

Avelle explained that the pipeline does have 50 ft gaps along the pipeline every 500 ft so that water can flow through to alleviate ecological issues associated with the spoil banks.

Avelle also stated that Bayou Bridge Pipeline LLC did not violate its permit and has not finished construction of the project yet because it does not have access to the property.

Next to take the stand was Kevin Taliaferro, director of right of ways, who had previously testified during the lawsuit’s pre-trial hearing held on Nov. 16.

Taliaferro further clarified the 1976 Judgement of Possession, which is what ETP used to identify and locate the property’s various owners in order to make offers to them for the rights to their land.

Taliaferro reiterated the fact that ETP was constructing on the property before gaining full permission from the landowners.

“We were going through the expropriation process and continuing to voluntarily get permission,” Taliaferro said.

The first of the landowners to testify on Wednesday was Theda Larson Wright who described her family’s history of owning the land and how it was affected during the Flood of 1926, which left the majority of the property underwater.

Asked how the pipeline construction had affected her, she said, “I was upset because I hadn’t consented for them to enter my property and because of that I was being sued. My family feels violated. I was born in this country. I’m an American and I feel as those rights have not been respected.”

Defense attorneys asked Wright how often she visits the property. Wright admitted that she had never set foot on the property and had not done anything to maintain it.

Wright also admitted to protesting other pipeline construction projects including the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The final testimony heard today was from Peter Aaslestad, who filed the original injunction this summer that halted construction of the pipeline on his property that led up to today’s proceedings.

Aaslestad told attorneys for the Center for Constitutional Rights that he had owned the property since 2007 when his father made an active donation of the land to his children.

Aaslestad said that BBP made an initial offer to buy his land, which he rejected. The company followed up with a second offer, which Aaslestad also rejected. The company then moved to seize the land from Aaslestad through eminent domain.

“They have appointed themselves the power to seize land for their shareholders,” Aaslestad testified. “I consider this to be un-American.”

Aaslestad said that he became determined to stop the company from seizing his land and sought out ways to counter the eminent domain claim on his property.

“I am a single individual and Bayou Bridge Pipeline and Energy Transfer Partners are a billion dollar company and I felt like I wouldn’t have the resources to fight for my rights,” said Aaslestad.

Aaslestad, a resident of Virginia, then described that while he has never lived in the state of Louisiana, his family has a long history in the state and the basin.

“I’m not just speaking of my own love for this state,” he said. “I feel an urge to defend the land of my forebears as they thought of this place as a refuge.”

Asked by the defense of his commitment to the property, Aaslestad admitted that he hadn’t set foot on the property before last week, hadn’t paid taxes on the property and hadn’t done anything to maintain the property.

KATC reached out to Energy Transfer Partners but they declined to comment.

Comeaux is expected to rule Thursday after hearing more testimony and closing arguments.

Wynce Nolley

Wynce Nolley

Investigative Producer at KATC TV 3 Acadiana's News Channel
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