Family fights utility over land value

Man fights to preserve family property

HICKORY, NC (WBTV) - A family is waging a fight against an energy giant that, they say, is offering an unfair price for their land.

Tony Abernethy and his family own land near Hickory that has been in the family for generations. Abernethy remembers helping his father and grandfather plow fields, sew corn and harvest other fruits and vegetables.

Today, the field is used for hay. It also has a natural gas pipeline running across it. The pipeline was installed in Piedmont Natural Gas (PNG) more than half a century ago.

Records provided by Abernethy show PNG purchased a 20 foot right-of-way that stretched the length of the field from Abernethy's grandfather in 1958 for $800.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that $800 check would amount to $6,605 in 2015.

Now, PNG wants an additional 30 feet of right-of-way to stretch the same length of its current pipeline. According to Abernethy, the company is only offering $1,200.

"In 1958, $800 was a whole lot more money than it is now," Abernethy said. "I cannot believe that this land has not gone up in value."

David Trusty, a PNG spokesman, declined to confirm how much the company has offered Abernethy to purchase the additional easement but said the price the company pays is based on a number of factors, including the use of the land, market comparables and the square footage of the proposed easement.

"We completely try to resolve to everybody's satisfaction," Trust said. "Our goal is to be as unobtrusive as we can."

Abernethy is afraid that if he doesn't agree to a deal with PNG, the company will use take the land through eminent domain. Trusty, the PNG spokesman, said the company always compensates landowners when they acquire new right-of-way access.

"I'm not against progress, I just don't like to be pushed around," Abernethy said. "I just don't think it's a fair offer."

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