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Gas firm gets partial win in condemnation lawsuit

Roxana Hegeman, Associated Press

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) -- A federal judge gave another win Tuesday to a Nebraska gas firm in a lawsuit over the condemnation of more than 9,100 acres in south-central Kansas.

U.S. District Judge Monti Belot granted partial summary judgment to Northern Natural Gas in the latest ruling in a decades-old legal fight stemming from gas seeping from an underground storage facility.

In a 35-page decision, the court found Northern obtained exclusive possession of the underground formations under all but one of the properties on March 30, 2012, making that "date of taking" for purposes of the lawsuit as the company wanted. The date of possession for the one remaining well will be when compensation is paid, the judge said.

More than 173 property owners hold some property interest in the more than 40 tracts — spanning three Kansas counties — at issue in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court of Kansas.

The legal maneuvering for condemnation comes after a 2010 decision by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that granted Northern Natural Gas the authority to expand its Cunningham Storage Field in Kansas by an additional 12,320 acres. The facility stores gas in two underground formations now spanning about 28,000 acres.

The lawsuit working its way in U.S. District Court in Kansas uses the power of eminent domain to take property from unwilling sellers in Pratt, Kingman and Reno counties.