Deborah M. Osborne

Deborah M. Osborne

Athena Agreements’ founder Deborah M. Osborne is a certified negotiation and conflict resolution expert with 20+ years of experience and over 500 cases under her belt.

LAND USE, MODERNIZATION AND A SENSE OF PLACE

When our company founder worked at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) community and landowner disputes surfaced over the siting, construction and abandonment of facilities affiliated with energy infrastructure. Disputes were resolved using alternative dispute resolution (ADR) techniques because ADR worked over and over again both for small two-party and large multiparty controversies. In all, the decision-making body of the FERC took advantage of ADR tools for all types of disputes: business disputes among energy companies, alternative and green energy interconnections to the grid and concerns related to the effects of energy infrastructure on the environment, historic preservation, and cultural resources and issues of environmental justice, quality of living and culture to culture differences in values.

Conciliation for Landowner Disputes

The FERC instituted a toll-free Landowner Helpline for disputes between energy project sponsors and landowners. Conciliation, one ADR technique of several, has been used successfully at the FERC to resolve hundreds of landowner disputes. In conciliation the trained neutral serves as the conciliator and facilitates the lines of communication between a company and a landowner who lack trust in one another. The conciliator often helps the parties clear up the misunderstandings that led to their conflict in the first place. In many cases, once the parties begin to communicate constructively after the conciliator’s intervention, they are on their way to restoring faith and trust in each other again.  

Parties that take advantage of expert neutrals to resolve land use conflicts typically achieve agreements that satisfy their interests. Although the need for the neutral conciliator to intervene may be minimal for landowner disputes, the benefits to the parties are huge. First, there is no need for the landowner to pay expensive legal fees to fight the matter in court. Second, the company benefits from accomplishing the objectives of a FERC-approved project, which in turn, fulfills the mission of the FERC to ensure a safe and reliable energyinfrastructure at a reasonable cost to consumers. Third, most energy company personnel and landowners build and maintain a better working relationship moving forward when they work with and not against each other. The social capitol the parties build with each other by taking advantage of FERC’s Landowner Helpline comes in handy in the future if the need arises to address an unforeseen problem on the property. 

Mediation for Community and Stakeholder Disputes  

Energy project sponsors, commercial enterprises, community, and city and local governments that take advantage of mediation, another ADR tool, to resolve controversial facility siting and abandonment disputes often achieve agreements that satisfy 100 percent of their interests. Mediation works well in disputes before government agencies because decision-making is placed in the hands of the individuals that are in dispute and not with an arbitrary decision-maker or government body that decides and dictates how the dispute will be resolved. Mediation is built on the foundation of self-determination. The parties are in charge of how they will resolve their dispute with each other. The neutral mediator guides the discussion without siding with any individual party on how the dispute is to be resolved. To summarize how mediation works, mediation is a two-step process, problem-identification, call that Phase 1 and decision-making, call that Phase 2. During Phase 1, the mediator works with all the parties to identify the problems that they can all agree upon need addressing during the mediation. During Phase 2, the mediator works with the parties so they brainstorm a list of options that may satisfy their interests then evaluate the options together that may or may not meet their interests. When the parties agree on stipulations that satisfy their interests they collaborate with the mediator to record the principles of their agreement. The principles will serve as an outline for a formal agreement. Depending on the jurisdiction of the matter, for example, FERC, the agreement is filed for review and approval by the FERC and a Commission Order is issued to ensure the commitments made by the parties in the agreement are upheld.  

You can find orders issued by the FERC at this e-library link: elibrary.ferc.gov/eLibrary/search. There you can check out a large, multiparty case that our company founder co-mediated during her tenure at the FERC. The case reflects the value of a consensus-oriented approach using mediation to resolve 100 percent of the issues in the high profile and high dollar value dispute. The case involved the abandonment of approximately 350 miles of natural gas pipeline facilities. Search the FERC’s e-library for Docket No. RP14-638-000 with an issuance date of April 16, 2015 for the Commission’s “Order Approving Uncontested Settlement” for American Midstream (MIDLA), LLC’s pipeline abandonment application.

I hope you will realize the value of ADR tools and take advantage of them for disputes that may occur in your line of work. If you find this content interesting and want to know more about the work we do at Athena Agreements visit, https://AthenaAgreements.com

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