Camden Co. man fights gas company over pipeline

Michael Stark says a hastily-filled trench around this pipeline, dug into his road without his permission, has caused the gravel to wash away.

The Missouri Public Service Commission on Wednesday ordered a gas company to explain why it dug a gas pipeline on a resident's property.

Michael Stark told KRCG 13 he was surprised to discover a work crew digging a gas pipeline on a road he owns and maintains last July.

"I said, 'This is my land, you're not supposed to be here,'" he explained. "And they said, 'Well, we're just doing what we're told.'"

By the time he came back that afternoon, the crew had buried the pipeline and regraded the gravel road. Over the next few months, however, rains washed away the gravel surrounding the pipeline, which Stark said indicated workers rushed to finish the job.

The resulting trenches have made the road impassable. This became problematic over the winter when Stark's neighbors were unable to use Lake Road 5-73 to reach Old Highway 5. Lake Road 5-73 runs right next to Stark's road but is much steeper, and Stark has always allowed people to use his road to get up the hill during heavy showfall. As a result, Stark said his neighbors were unable to go anywhere on several occasions.

Stark said Summit Natural Gas, which owns the pipeline, used an outdated county map when it installed the pipeline, which he said happened just feet away from a utility easement. He said he has owned the property for the last 15 years and has clearly marked with purple paint, a universal no-tresspassing sign in Missouri. He said he tried to settle with Summit out of court but the company would not accept his offers. Instead, he said the company threatened to seize his property through eminent domain.

That fall, the state ombudsman visited the site and suggested Summit move the pipeline. The company installed a new one along a utility easement next to Lake Road 5-73 but left the pipeline on Stark's propery where it was without connecting it to anything. Stark filed an official complaint with the PSC at the end of December.

"The bottom line is that they haven't even made one single offer to settle," he said. "They have no excuse for what they've done here, they've admitted that they've done this after I told them not to. The damage is very visible. It's obvious. They have no excuse not to take care of it."

Summit declined to comment for this story due to pending litigation.

Both the Public Service Commission's own staff and Summit argued that the case should be dismissed because the commission does not have any jurisdiction over the matter. On Wednesday, the PSC decided to take the case, saying it still had the authority to decide whether Summit had tresspassed on Stark's land. It ordered Summit to file any evidence the company has of authority to enter Stark's property no later than June 2. A prehearing conference is scheduled for June 3.