Judge dismisses pipeline suit

Published 7:57 pm Monday, October 5, 2015

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit by landowners in Nelson County who sought to prevent surveying for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline from taking place on their property.

“A landowner does not have a property right to exclude an authorized utility from entering his property for survey purposes,” wrote Judge Elizabeth K. Dillon of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia.

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.

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The five landowners in the Nelson County case filed suit in September 2014. Four months earlier, they had received a letter from Dominion Transmission Inc. requesting written permission to survey on their land. When they didn’t respond, Dominion sent another letter stating that “although the company had not received written permission to enter their properties, it nonetheless planned to move forward with the surveys for the pipeline project,” according to the judge’s written decision.

State law allows natural gas companies to survey on private property as long as it has asked for permission and given the owner notice of intent to enter, regardless of whether it received permission.

At an Aug. 4, 2015, hearing on the Nelson County lawsuit, Atlantic Coast Pipeline informed the court it has made a change to the proposed route and that it no longer runs through the plaintiffs’ properties. “But it also stated that it cannot guarantee that it will not change the route back in the future,” the decision states.

A case in Suffolk Circuit Court in March 2015 was one of the first times the pipeline faced off against landowners in court. After Fifth Circuit Judge Carl E. Eason Jr. ruled for the landowner, Atlantic Coast Pipeline dropped 116 lawsuits against landowners in Virginia because Eason ruled that the Suffolk landowner had not been given notice by the correct party — a situation that applied to all of the other landowners, too.

Attorney Charles M. Lollar, who represented Davis Boulevard LLC in that lawsuit, said he’s “still considering what precedence, if any, it has on the pending and new entry suits ACP filed.”

In a statement from Dominion, Director of Communications Jim Norvelle said the company believes the Virginia law is consistent with the U.S. Constitution.

“ACP has followed the procedure as laid out in the Virginia law to survey the best route with the least environmental impact,” Norvelle said. “The Virginia law allows survey only as necessary to meet regulatory requirements. The ACP is needed to deliver abundant and low-cost natural gas to generate electricity, heat homes and businesses and spur economic development. It will create thousands of jobs and millions of tax revenue for the communities along its route.”