Landowner Lawsuit Challenging Surveys Dismissed

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA (NEWSPLEX) -- A lawsuit filed by landowners in Augusta and Nelson counties concerning surveys of property for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline has been dismissed.

Landowners filed the lawsuit to say a state law allowing surveyors working for a utility to enter private property without permission was unconstitutional.

On Wednesday, Judge Elizabeth Dillon of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia dismissed the suit.

"A landowner does not have a property right to exclude an authorized utility from entering his property for survey purposes," she wrote in her opinion.

Dominion Spokesperson Frank Mack says while surveying for pipeline, Dominion has followed the law and is looking for the best route with the least impact.

"The Virginia law also allows us to survey, only as necessary to meet regulatory requirements, in this case that would be the Federal Regulatory Commission." said Mack, "As long as there is proper notification and landowner protections and the ruling yesterday by Judge Dillon has done that."

However, Attorney Neal Walters who represented the landowners has a different opinion.

"We're disappointed in the ruling, obviously for our clients because the pipeline has been rerouted around them its less of an issue." said Walters, "I do think it indicates a very narrow view of private property."

"We're disappointed in the ruling, obviously for our clients because the pipeline has been rerouted around them its less of an issue." said Walters, "I do think it indicates a very narrow view of private property."

Walters says the court did not rule on one of their biggest issues, whether or not Dominion's survey was invasive.

The ACP project would stretch from West Virginia to North Carolina and transport natural gas.

The Virginia law allows a natural gas company to gather information required for such projects through the ability to enter property and conduct a minimally invasive survey as long as the utility has sent notification of the survey to the landowner.

Walters says it was not minimally invasive.

"What Dominion said it was going to do in this case is descent 15 to 20 people, over a number of days to clear a hundred foot wide paths, and dig holes every 50 feet." said Walters, "Our position is, it's not a minimally invasive survey, it's nothing like a minimally invasive survey and the court never addressed that."

The judge ruled that the state law does not violate the U.S. Constitution and it works with the Natural Gas Act of 1938.

In a statement, Dominion writes, "From the beginning, we have always believed that the Virginia law is consistent with the U.S. Constitution and allows surveys with proper notification and landowner protections. Yesterday's ruling affirmed that belief and our actions. ACP has followed the procedure as laid out in the Virginia law to survey the best route with the least environmental impact. The Virginia law allows survey only as necessary to meet regulatory requirements."

Walters says an appeal is still in the air and Mack says if that happens they'll have to prepare.



 
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