Thursday, August 5, 2010

You're Trespassing On Your Own Property, Son

The Duluth News Tribune features the story of this young guy who somehow managed to get arrested last year for trespass on his family's property.  Here's reporter Peter Passi's account:

"Jeremy Engelking (pic) uperior man arrested for trespassing on his own property last year, was back in court Monday as his tangle with Enbridge Energy Partners continues. This time, his parents, Barbara and Gerald Engelking, were pulled into the fray. The Engelkings have been vocal opponents of Enbridge’s efforts to install a pipeline across 20 acres of land they own in Superior.

In December of last year, Jeremy Engelking confronted pipeline workers, telling them that they were trespassing and had no right to be on his property. The exchange ended with his arrest for allegedly trespassing on a construction site and disorderly conduct. Those charges were subsequently dropped.

Enbridge completed its installation of pipe across the Engelkings’ property and now plans to restore the property to its original condition by regrading dirt and planting grass over the pipeline corridor, as required by the state of Wisconsin.

But Jeremy Engelking had posted a 'No trespassing for any purpose' sign on his property and put up some snow fencing. 'To avoid any legal issues, we won’t go in there until a judge says we can,' said Joe Mihalek, an attorney for Enbridge, before Monday’s court hearing. The company got the go-ahead it sought later that afternoon, when Judge George Glonek issued a temporary injunction ordering the Engelkings to grant Enbridge access to their property.

Jeremy Engelking said the pipeline construction cut about a 100-foot-wide and 1,000-foot-long swath through his family’s property.  Micah Harris, a right-of-way supervisor for Enbridge, estimated the restoration work on the Engelkings’ land would take about four days to complete, weather permitting, and would require follow-up visits to ensure that vegetation takes hold and erosion issues do not develop.

'Heaven knows what the state will do if Enbridge doesn’t comply with its permit, but it has the ability to assess fines and withhold operating permits,' Mihalek said.

'We can’t risk having the operating permits lost for a multi-billion-dollar project just because of one property owner’s peculiar interpretation of an easement agreement,' said Mihalek, as he made his case for an injunction."
The article goes on to note that the Engelking family may find itself on the hook for the attorney fees and other costs of delay to Enbridge.  Nice.

This is one of those stories that's upsetting to lay people and really most Americans because of a fundamental lack of understanding of property law and the idea of ownership.  Most of us think that if you own something you own all of the rights connected with the property.  It just isn't so.
Property law provides for a bundle of rights some of which are available to non-property owners as an "easement."  Easements are property rights to pass through or under the property of others for special usages.  Not being a property lawyer, either active or inactive, let me cautin you that the subject of easements are explored in legal treatises of sufficient bulk to support your Chevy if you lack concrete blocks for the purpose. 

Unfortunately it's appalling how these rights are exercised by utilities and others, and the arrest of young Mr. Engelking was utterly absurd and ridiculous.  This is the sort of bad public relations that companies like BP specialize in, capped in this instance by the threat of attorney fees and costs being assessed against the property owners.  Knuckleheads.


  1. Hope you are paying attention to the trial regarding the property rights... it began Tuesday.

  2. according to the Wisconsin Circuit Court website the pipeline won the appeal by a jury verdict

  3. Actually, the jury found Enbridge and its pipelines were found guilty of trespassing on the Engelkings' properties. The last three pipelines were not located on Enbridge's easement.

  4. Great post! I love your blog, keep up the good work here!