Mexican judge says Sempra plant is on rancher's land

SAN DIEGO - A Mexican court has ruled a liquefied natural gas plant owned by a Sempra Energy subsidiary is sitting on someone else's land.

It is the latest in a long string of court battles on both sides of the border wrestling over the property in Baja California where the massive plant is located.

The Argarian Tribunal of Baja California said the government wrongly issued the title to the land. The court said it belongs to rancher Ramon Sanchez Ritchie, who spoke to Team 10 in 2011 as the conflict unfolded.

Sempra disputes the rancher's claims, and they say he is a squatter. The company also said another court decision conflicts with this latest ruling.

Sempra argued the land in the court decision is adjacent to the permitted land for the terminal and is needed to keep the plant operating.

A Sempra spokesman issued this statement regarding the ruling:

In late November, Mexico's Agrarian Court in Ensenada issued a ruling that the Agrarian Reform erred in refusing to issue a title to property adjacent to the Energia Costa Azul (ECA) LNG terminal in Ensenada to Sanchez Ritchie, and closing the file on his application. Sanchez Ritchie initially made his application in 1993, and the file was closed in 2006 for inactivity. Both IEnova and the Agrarian Reform disagree with the ruling, and the Agrarian Reform has appealed it to the Agrarian appellate court, and ECA has challenged it in the Federal Circuit Court.

(Agrarian Courts are established by Article 27 of the Mexico Federal Constitution and they resolve matters pertaining to the Federal Agrarian Act).

Here's our perspective:

The property that is the subject of the Agrarian Court ruling is not required for any of Energia Costa Azul's (ECA) permits or for its operations.

After a five-year permitting and construction process, the Energia Costa Azul (ECA) LNG terminal was completed and commenced operations in 2008. ECA is built on land that was acquired by Sempra as required by the federal and state permits. After the permitting process was completed, Sempra also purchased adjacent land from the legal owner and after a thorough review of the title's history to create an environmental greenbelt as well as a security zone.

After the property was purchased in 2006, Sanchez Ritchie, a squatter, claimed to be the owner without property title or documentation and notwithstanding that Sempra is the registered titleholder. We disagree with the ruling by the Agrarian Court and have challenged it in the Federal Circuit Court. The Agrarian Reform also disagrees, and it has appealed the ruling.

The ruling does not invalidate ECA's title. That could only be done by the state Civil Court in Ensenada. Although Sanchez Ritchie has claimed he owns the property, he has never brought a legal challenge to the validity of ECA's title because he has never held a title. In contrast, ECA has filed two cases in the Civil Court to confirm the superiority of its ownership and possessory rights. The civil cases are still pending.
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