Pipeline drops lawsuits

Published 8:26 pm Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Following a ruling in Suffolk Circuit Court last month, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is dropping more than 100 lawsuits against landowners in Virginia whom it sought to compel to allow surveyors on their properties.

Fifth Circuit Judge Carl Eason on March 24 agreed with attorneys for a Suffolk property owner, Davis Boulevard LLC, that it had not been given notice by the correct party as outlined in state law.

Jim Norvelle, director of communications for Dominion Energy, said Dominion Transmission Inc. sent the first letters requesting permission to survey in the spring of 2014, when the pipeline was a Dominion Transmission Inc. project known as the Southeast Reliability Project.

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But Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and AGL Resources joined the project in September, and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC was created.

“The court ruled that this change required a letter from the ACP to the landowner,” Norvelle wrote in response to a request for comment this week.

The 540-mile natural gas pipeline would run from Harrison County, W.Va., to Robeson County, N.C., with a spur coming east from the Virginia/North Carolina state line to Chesapeake, running through Suffolk on the way.

Norvelle said the pipeline corporation plans to withdraw lawsuits in Virginia involving similar letters. Across the commonwealth 116 lawsuits, including two in Suffolk, were filed in state courts against landowners who steadfastly refused to allow surveys on their properties, according to Norvelle.

“If the landowners do not allow surveys once they are properly notified by the ACP, the company may start legal proceedings again,” Norvelle wrote.

That’s exactly what many of his clients are afraid of, said Charles Lollar of Waldo & Lyle, P.C., who is representing almost 100 of the defendants of Dominion’s lawsuits.

“Most of our clients are relieved that they are no longer parties to a lawsuit,” Lollar said, noting it had been the first time being sued for most of them. “But they are concerned about what the future may bring and hope Dominion/Atlantic Coast Pipeline will do the right thing and move this pipeline crossing out of the Commonwealth entirely.”

Other clients, Lollar said, “are bitter about having been sued in the first place simply because they refused to allow strangers to come on their land to survey, run tests and remove ‘any items of cultural interest’ in order to acquire, against their will, a permanent easement running through their land to realize a huge profit at their expense.”

Lollar said he will argue the constitutional issue he sees at stake when his clients, as he anticipates many of them will do, deny permission again.

“The direct entry and removal of private property by ACP is a taking of property requiring just compensation under our constitution,” he said.