Homeowner hopeful for settlement over destructive pipeline

A judge confers with Michael Stark (in blue shirt) and lawyers from Summit Natural Gas during a conference call Tuesday morning.

A lake-area homeowner is optimistic after a Tuesday conference over a pipeline that was buried on his property without permission by a lake-area utility company.

Michael Stark spent about an hour Tuesday morning negotiating with a lawyer for Summit Natural Gas at the Public Service Commission's Jefferson City headquaters. The hearing comes after contractors for Summit buried a natural gas pipeline on his private road last summer without his knowledge or permission. Stark said on May 21 workers did not finish filling in the pipeline trench, which meant rain was able to wash the road out. Stark's road was just yards away from a public utility easement where the pipeline could have been buried.

At Tuesday's conference, Stark said the company's attorney, Diana Carter, told him the company was willing to let him take ownership of the pipeline to relieve them of the liability. He said he thought that was a reasonable offer. If that happens, he said the PSC has recommended the pipeline stay where it is to avoid causing further damage to the road.

Carter did not attend the conference in person, instead calling in from her office two blocks away. Carter was not in her office when KRCG 13 stopped by for comment afterward, nor did she return calls seeking comment.

Stark's conference is the latest twist in a series of complaints concerning Summit's work in the Lake of the Ozarks area. Shortly after KRCG 13 aired its first story with Stark, other residents came forward with similar stories of Summit contractors either burying pipelines where they were not supposed to or not repairing property damage after they had finished their work. Summit is facing a property damage lawsuit in Morgan County in addition to Stark's civil suit and PSC complaint.

"I'm not expecting to become a millionaire over this or get rich, but I'm not going to settle for pennies," Stark said. "My land was trespassed on, there's damages to the property, and quite honestly, there's punitive values to this matter."

Stark said he wants to settle with Summit if possible to avoid dragging the matter out further. If a deal falls through, he said there will be a hearing before the Public Service Commission to determine if Summit violated state law.