VALDOSTA — A Colquitt County land owner was awarded five times more money than what Sabal Trail offered him for putting a pipeline through his land.
Tuesday, a federal jury decided Sabal Trail owed Lynn Lasseter $103,385 in compensation for a permanent and temporary easement. Originally, Sabal Trail only offered him only $19,971.
The pipeline cut through about two acres of Lasseter's 74 acres of land; he said he had planned developing the land into a residential area.
Sabal Trail is a natural gas pipeline that cuts through Alabama, Georgia and Florida. Through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the company was granted eminent domain to seize private property such as Lasseter's to lay its pipeline.
One of the requirements to seize the property is that Sabal Trail offer "just compensation" for the land, said Jonathan Waters, Lasseter's defense attorney.
Waters said his client didn't think Sabal Trail offered him enough money for the land and refused to accept the payment. In response, the pipeline sued Lasseter to force him to accept the amount offered.
A jury trial was held Monday and Tuesday in a Valdosta federal courtroom with Chief Judge Clay Land, Middle District of Georgia, overseeing the proceedings.
The case heavily relied on the testimony of Sabal Trail expert witness Carl Schultz, a property appraiser who set the original compensation amount of $19,971. Sabal Trail argued that Schultz used every modern and fair method to determine just compensation.
Waters asked jurors during closing arguments if they believed a witness who was paid by Sabal Trail.
"It comes down to this: Do you believe them?" Waters asked the jury.
Waters, however, didn't offer how much money would constitute just compensation. The attorney left that for the jury to decide.
After about an hour of deliberation, the jury returned with a verdict heavily in favor of the land owner. Waters said the jury disagreed with Sabal Trail on the amount Lasseter was owed for his land.
"The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees that you can't take private property for public use without just compensation," Waters said. "And the jury in Valdosta disagreed with Sabal Trail to the tune of five times the amount Sabal was trying to pay Mr. Lasseter."
Sabal Trail declined to comment for this story.
Thomas Lynn is a government and education reporter for The Valdosta Daily Times. He can be reached at (229)244-3400 ext. 1256