Tim J. Yianne and Harry F. Bell Jr. of Bell & Bands filed a lawsuit on October 17 in Roane Circuit Court on behalf of Emogene Helmick against Columbia Gas Transmission Corporation.

Helmick seeks compensatory damages and injunctive relief for property damage caused by contamination from Columbia Gas pipelines located on her property at Little Pigeon, Roane County.

The case has been assigned to Circuit Judge Thomas Evans III.

The suit says Columbia has operated a natural gas pipeline system in the United States since the 1890s, and has about 12,750 miles of pipeline and 36 natural gas storage fields.

The suit says, "As a result of normal pressure and temperature changes within Columbia's pipeline, constituents contained in natural gas can condense into a liquid form within the pipeline... This liquid, or condensate, may contain, among other things, benzene and xylene. Condensates must be removed to avoid damage to the gas compressors."

It is this condensation that is removed from the pipelines at various locations that causes problems, the suit says.

"The most common type of liquid removal point consists of a liquid trap attached to the pipeline and a length of small-diameter pipe with an above-ground valve," the suit says. It says there are about 15,000 of these liquid removal points.

This material, according to the suit, was disposed onto the ground, stored in above ground and underground storage tanks and/or disposed of in trash disposal and burn areas.

"As a result of this practice, soils along the pipeline, in the vicinity of the storage tanks, and in the trash disposal and burn areas have become contaminated with, among other things, benzene and xylene," it says.

Helmick is one of many property owners who owns all or a portion of property that is crossed by Columbia's line in the Geary District.

Soil samples taken at random on Helmick's property has revealed benzene and xylene, which are carcinogens.

Columbia no longer uses the line to transmit gas.

The company is now attempting to transfer ownership of the line.

"However, as a condition of transferring the pipeline, Columbia has attempted to have plaintiff sign an 'Ownership Transfer of Abandoned Pipeline" contract where plaintiff makes certain warranties if she should remove any equipment, scrap or other materials," the suit states.

The complaint filed with the court maintains that these warranties are a violation of the Federal Resource Conversation and Recovery Act, an actual or threatened release of hazardous substance under the Federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act or a violation of other environmental laws, rules and regulations.

The suit says many other property owners were coerced into signing the "unconscionable" contract.

Helmick "has refused to sign a contract that potentially places enormous liability on her as a result of the contamination."

A potential class-action suit would consist of all individuals who own property in West Virginia that has been contaminated by the T16 pipeline.

The complaint suggests factors that would be considered include whether contaminants have caused the loss of property value.

It also considers the amount of damages for the cost of removal and disposal of the contaminants.

Helmick claims Columbia's actions have created a public and private nuisance and that the invasion of the contaminants onto her property is a "continuing trespass."