I have covered the formal complaint filed at the WV PSC concerning Allegheny Energy’s violation of the promises they made to the PSC about their clearing practices on the TrAIL transmission line. Here is one of my earlier posts that described the right of way clearing controversy.
On the morning of the second day of testimony, March 29, the complainants called as witnesses Brad and Carol Castle, two Preston County land owners, to describe their experiences dealing with Allegheny Energy and the more than 30 acres they were forced to give up for the TrAIL project. Here is a link to the transcript of that testimony.
Every West Virginia land owner should read this testimony carefully. If you think you can bargain with power companies like Allegheny (now FirstEnergy) or AEP without an attorney, you are wrong. The Castles thought they could protect their rights and their land without an attorney. I know from talking directly after the hearing that they regret that decision. You can see why from their testimony.
Here are some examples that you will find in their testimony:
- The Castles testified that the width of the right of way across their property was altered by Allegheny before their signed agreement was recorded. Their copy of the agreement states that the right of way would be 200′ wide. The first page of the agreement recorded in the Preston County Clerk’s Office describes the width of the right of way as 290′. Something happened to their signed agreement between the time they signed it and when it was recorded.
- Supreme Industries damaged a large amount of timber that was cut from more than 30 acres of land in such a way that many of the logs could not be sawed for lumber. What could be salvaged could only be used for pulp wood because it was so damaged.
- Allegheny contractors wantonly destroyed the Castles’ gates and fence with backhoes and bulldozers.
- The Castles were never told that they had any say about how the right of way would be cleared.
- The Castles were paid for their timber damage and were told that they could also have the logs to sell in addition to the payments. This was portrayed by Allegheny, and repeated in cross examination in the transcript, as some kind of gift by the power company which had already paid them for the timber. However, both Brad and Carol Castle testified that Allegheny’s land agents always used the “gift” of the logs in calculations of damages as construction proceeded and the damage by Allegheny mounted. The logs were always part of Allegheny’s damage calculations and were not a “gift” at all.
- The Castles thought they had agreements about the locations of access roads and water drainage. Allegheny contractor Supreme Industries and the road building contractors removed existing farm roads and replaced them with unusable access roads with culverts that misdirected water and caused serious erosion and flooding.
Read the transcript yourself. You will see two land owners who were hoodwinked by the slick talking, ever changing roster of Allegheny land men. As Carol Castle testifies, once the Castles signed the right of way agreements, everything changed. Suddenly they could never get a hold of anyone who had authority to resolve their problems. Suddenly the friendly land agents were gone. Every day they saw more and more damage to their land and their livelihood, and it was no more Mr. Nice Guy from Allegheny.
If you don’t own property that might be under threat from AEP or FirstEnergy, talk to your friends or neighbors about the Castles’ experience. Remember Woody Guthrie’s immortal line: “As through this life you travel you’ll meet lots of funny men, some will rob you with a six-gun, and some with a fountain pen.”
Learn from the Castles. Don’t get robbed the way they did. That’s why they went to Charleston to testify before the PSC. As Carol Castle said at the end of her testimony:
When things like this come, we like to see people be prepared. I don’t know if it’s our legislature’s job or our local government, but we would like to see that, you know, they understand when contracts are being pushed at them.
As Carol said — be prepared.