Proposed pipeline right of way creates legal battle in Massachusetts

A gas pipeline company is creating quite a stir in Massachusetts this year. According to MassLive.com, the Tennessee Gas Pipeline company is proposing to construct a 420-mile right of way through the state for the Kinder Morgan-Northeast Energy Direct Pipeline.

According to the pipeline company, the proposed right of way crosses numerous residential and business properties. Opposition to the pipeline is strong, prompting a 3-day protest walk through Western Massachusetts and a request by environmental groups for a federal investigation.

Although the permanent right of way will be only 50 feet wide, the "survey corridor" will be hundreds of feet wide to allow for construction access. More than 400 Massachusetts landowners are refusing to allow the company to survey their land. The debate is getting so heated that the issue may lead to a lawsuit regarding property rights.

What is a right of way?

A right of way is a legal right to cross the property of another. Rights of way are slightly different from easements, but that difference can mean a lot.

In general, an easement is an exception to your right to exclude others from using your property. For example, you may grant your local electric company a permanent right to string and maintain a power line across a portion of your property. The electric company does not own any part of your land; it simply has permission from you to access and use it. Typically, you can continue to use your land with certain safety restrictions.

A right of way, on the other hand, allows another to actually own a portion of your property, relieving you of any maintenance or tax obligations. The downside of a right of way is that you may not be able to use that portion of your own land once a right of way has been granted. If, for example, the Kinder Morgan-Northeast Energy Direct Pipeline is slated to cross the back of your residential property, you will lose the use of at least 50 feet of your backyard.

What can go wrong?

Since your home or commercial property is probably your most valuable asset, it is important to protect it. An easement or right of way will reduce the value of your property; sometimes more than the amount you were paid for the right of access.

Additionally, if someone owns a legal right of way over your land, or you own or want one over the property of another, disputes regarding the right of way may arise over such issues as:

  • Overuse of the right of way
  • Barring or limiting access over the right of way
  • Negotiating the establishment or relocation of a right of way

Such disagreements can lead to costly litigation if left unresolved.

A Massachusetts lawyer can help

An experienced real estate attorney from the Boston law firm of Phillips & Angley can help you resolve disagreements regarding issues of property rights and access or help you avoid potential disputes altogether.