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Oil Firm Seeks Eminent Domain Claim for Pipeline

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Frustrated by the city’s opposition to its proposed 132-mile oil pipeline, Pacific Pipeline System asked a judge Wednesday to allow the firm to use the power of eminent domain to build the line through the San Fernando Valley to Wilmington.

City officials, who fear the project could cause environmental damage, have delayed the line by filing two legal challenges.

“After exhausting every effort for years, we have decided the only way to get anything accomplished with the city is by filing an action of eminent domain,” said Jim Shamas, Pacific Pipeline senior operating officer.

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But city officials who have fought the project say they are still optimistic that the city will prevail in court.

“I think they are trying to undercut the legal process because they fear that we have some good issues,” said Councilman Richard Alarcon, who represents communities in the northeast Valley that the line would bisect.

Under California law, a state-licensed utility can seek the power of eminent domain if a local municipality blocks the construction of a utility line through its jurisdiction.

If a Los Angeles Superior Court judge supports Pacific Pipeline’s petition to use eminent domain, the firm can begin construction as soon as Oct. 15.

Pacific Pipeline would still have to pay $200,000 in city fees, but the city could lose the authority to impose conditions to lessen the environmental impact. Such measures would ultimately be left to a judge to impose, officials said.

As proposed, the $170-million line would carry 130,000 barrels of crude oil daily from Kern County to refineries in Wilmington. Along the way, the line would run mostly beneath railroad rights of way. But in Los Angeles, it would also run beneath 9 1/2 miles of city streets.

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Pacific Pipeline has applied for a franchise agreement with the city that would allow the city to collect an annual fee and impose conditions to lessen environmental impact.

But pipeline spokesman Charles McLean said the city’s Transportation Department has issued a 130-page preliminary franchise agreement that he said would make the project unfeasible.

In April, the state Public Utilities Commission certified an environmental report on the pipeline project. In March, federal officials approved an application to build the line through the Angeles National Forest.

The city has appealed both decisions to state and federal courts, saying that other route alternatives were not adequately studied.

Although the council has until Oct. 7 to approve the franchise agreement, McLean and Shamas said they decided to proceed with the eminent domain petition because they believe the city does not want to negotiate in good faith.

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