What Does A Field Right-Of-Way Agent Actually Do?

By Christopher Morgan, CM Land Solutions | November 2010 Vol. 237 No. 11

Making proper landowner notifications on an integrity project is where the difference between an agent who specializes in integrity work and the average acquisition agent come to light. From this stage forward is where a field right-of-way agent can be the most influential in the outcome of the project. If handled right, an agent can start and maintain a smooth running, efficient project despite unexpected changes, or completely drop the ball and begin a chain of frustrating events.

The mistake most agents make at this stage is to simply make a phone call to the landowners and tell them there will be some maintenance work done on their property, and this is usually all the agent does unless there are damages to settle afterwards. To most landowners, this phone call about “maintenance” suggests there will be some simple, routine right-of-way mowing done and don’t think much of it. That is, until they see the 80,000 lbs. of equipment sitting on their gravel road. This is when the landowner becomes alarmed and confused, and the only person there to deal with the situation is the inspector or construction crew. The right-of-way agent has since moved on.

On the contrary, an agent familiar with integrity projects will always visit each dig location and attempt to make personal contact with the landowners. Face-to-face contact with the landowner accomplishes several things. First and most important, the agent establishes a personal relationship with the landowner and a trust that the agent truly cares about the landowner’s property. This is the time to explain the process, timeline, necessary equipment, and the necessity of the project, so there will be no surprises when digging begins.

Questioning a rancher about his cattle or horses and ensuring him that all precautions will be made to respect their presence will go far in building a good relationship. A landowner who understands the need to be on his property, is comfortable with the equipment and process on his property, knows he has a contact to direct questions and concerns, and is confident property damages will be addressed, is the same landowner who will stay out of the way and let the crews on site do their job.

One of the most important pre-job tasks of the agent should be to secure access to the dig locations. Too often this simple step is omitted by many agents. Access sometimes means simply making sure gates are unlocked or combinations are known. But other times, this could mean contacting additional landowners, noting the presence of load zoned bridges, understanding weather conditions and the terrain to be crossed, securing turnaround and parking locations for haul trucks, or many other aspects that may hold up crews once mobilized.

There is nothing worse on an integrity project than to have equipment that costs tens of thousands of dollars per day sitting, waiting on a gate to be unlocked. An agent who understands the access needs of an integrity crew can save a project tons of money and many headaches simply by having access secured beforehand.