September 30, 2014
Five people in Nelson County are suing Dominion Transmission, Inc., trying to stop a gas pipeline from being put in their backyards. The lawsuit hopes to deem a Virginia statute unconstitutional that allows Dominion to conduct surveys on residents' properties without permission.
Virginia state code 56-49.01 says that natural gas companies "may enter upon any property without written permission of its owner" to do surveys as long as the company has notified the homeowner ahead of time.
Charlotte Rea is one of the plaintiffs in the suit. Dominion has notified her that they want to survey her land because her property is on the track of the proposed pipeline.
The pipeline would stretch 550 miles, from West Virginia, though Virginia, and down into North Carolina. About 35 miles of the pipeline would cut through Nelson County.
"It's a violation," Rea said. "It's a desecration. It makes you feel totally powerless."
Rea has lived in her home in Nelson County for more than ten years. She retired there after a career in the Air Force had moved her all over the country. She says it doesn't make sense to her that Dominion crews could come on her land to conduct surveys without permission and without compensation.
"You have no say in it," Rea said.
She hopes the statute will be declared unconstitutional, and that it will cause Dominion to halt all of its surveys in Virginia. Neal Walters is representing Rea and four others in the suit.
"The Supreme Court has recognized that the right to exclude other people from your property is one of the fundamental rights of property ownership," Walters said.
Rea has posted signs along her driveway that say Dominion crews are not allowed. Because of the pending lawsuit, and an earlier suit Rea brought against Dominion, the company has agreed to not survey Rea's property until the suits are settled.
But Rea says the battle is not just about her land.
"I could say that I want it out of my backyard, go put it in somebody else's," Rea said. "But that's not the way I feel about it. We get accused of, 'Well you environmentalists people, you don't like anything!' Well, to me this is a property rights issue, not an environmental issue."
Rea and Walters feel confident their suit will get a hearing.
"The constitution applies to everybody," Walters said.
"It feels like David against Goliath," Rea said. "But guess what? David won."
Dominion has not directly responded to the lawsuit. Earlier in September the project got the support of Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, which came as a surprise to Rea.
In a meeting with Nelson County residents in August, Dominion officials said the project would have the minimal environmental impact possible, and they would use eminent domain only as a last resort. The pipeline itself is still going through the approval process.