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Landowners Sued for Pipeline Surveys

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

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Do pipeline companies have the right to access a homeowner's property for their corporate purposes? Several of them think so and have gone to court to prove it.

Such court battles are underway in both West Virginia and Virginia.

In West Virginia, Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC is invoking eminent domain to sue over 100 landowners for the right to survey their land.

After facing resistance from 103 property owners and three corporations, Mountain Valley filed a lawsuit March 27 in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia in Beckley, asking federal authorities to force them to allow their land to be surveyed.

The lawsuit alleges that the defendants, who reside throughout 10 counties, have "failed or refused to permit MVP (to) enter the respondents' properties and/or prevented MVP from completing the necessary survey," the Register-Herald reported.

The 300-mile pipeline, which requires approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), would provide natural gas from northwestern West Virginia to southern Virginia.

© / ZU_09

After facing resistance from 103 property owners and three corporations, Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC filed a lawsuit March 27 in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia in Beckley asking federal authorities to force them to allow their land to be surveyed.

MVP is a joint venture of multiple energy companies, including NextEra U.S. Gas Assets and EQT Midstream Partners.

Questioning 'Public Use'

The lawsuit turns on the doctrine of eminent domain—the power to take private property for public use. MVP  says its proposed pipeline fits the definition because it needs property surveys to obtain necessary rights-of-way for an FERC Certificate and to construct the pipeline.

However, the defendants say the pipeline doesn't fit the description of "public use."

Three couples who received letters from the lawyer filed preemptive lawsuits against MVP asking circuit courts to prevent developers from accessing their properties, according to the Register-Herald.

Those lawsuits say the company doesn't have right to eminent domain because the gas won't be used by West Virginians. Therefore, the pipeline doesn't meet the "public use" clause.

Gaining Rights

MVP submitted a request for pre-filing to FERC in October 2014, but doesn't plan to submit its actual application until this October.

MVP is seeking a declaratory judgment that the pipeline's agents may enter onto the properties as well as preliminary and permanent injunctions ordering landowners to stop barring the company from accessing their properties, the Register-Herald reported.

An attorney for MVP sent letters to landowners in February to warn them of legal action and gave them a March 9 deadline to comply.

Joe Lovett, executive director of Appalachian Mountain Advocates, told that he doesn't think the lawsuit has a leg to stand on.

"I don't think the pipeline company has the right to survey people's property in West Virginia before it's been granted right of eminent domain," Lovett said.

Mountain Valley Pipeline
Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC

Defendants in the lawsuit argue that the pipeline doesn't meet the "public use" clause of eminent domain because it won't be used by West Virginians.

"This is an attempt to gain a right through litigation that they do not have."

240 Virginians Face Suit

This isn't the first time a company has sued to survey for a pipeline. In December, Dominion Resources filed lawsuits in circuit courts against 47 landowners in Virginia who wouldn't allow their properties to be surveyed for a proposed $5 billion pipeline.

When all is said and done, Dominion plans to sue a total of 240 Virginia landowners to force survey access, The Washington Post reported.

Jim Norvelle, Dominion's spokesperson, told that Virginia law allows the company to enter properties to conduct surveys for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would run 550 miles through West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina.

Virginia passed a law in 2004 that stated that a pipeline can enter private property for survey work without permission. Now, the entire legal issue may depend on determining whether that law is constitutional.

The landowners were notified in November that the matter would move forward in court.

"We notified them that if they did not grant us permission, we would file legal actions and ask the court to affirm the law," Norvelle said. "We are now at the stage with these landowners."

The pipeline is being proposed by Dominion, Duke Energy and Piedmont Natural Gas to bring natural gas from Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.


Tagged categories: Construction; Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC); Lawsuits; North America; Pipelines; Program/Project Management

Comment from Tony Rangus, (4/7/2015, 11:48 AM)

So much for the old adage, "A man's home is his castle" or the virtue of private property rights. I guess since the Federal Government can arbitrarily assign land & water restrictions (e.g. wetlands) so as to meet some EPA mandate, I guess a natural gas company can bring a blast hole drill or a D-9 onto my property and then argue what is meant by "actual damages" resulting from such entry. Mothballs in the fuel tank should become a common occurence.

Comment from Chuck Pease, (4/7/2015, 1:04 PM)

While I agree with the residents and feel their pain. I will be surprised if they can win this battle. It will turn into a legal battle of attrition. Deep pockets will rule. Sad really.

Comment from Mark Bowen, (4/7/2015, 4:36 PM)

There's an old saying, "You never get into a battle with someone who has unlimited legal resources."

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