‘Death by 1,000 cuts:’ A win for Nelson pipeline opponents

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline could run through these Nelson County mountains. Photo: Jack Looney The Atlantic Coast Pipeline could run through these Nelson County mountains. Photo: Jack Looney

Companies surveying for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline must provide property owners sufficient written notice before setting foot on their properties, a Nelson County judge ruled May 9. Though this doesn’t stop the project, pipeline opponents say any ruling in favor of landowners is a success.

“It gives us much more control over our property and the ability to protect ourselves,” says Randy Whiting, who lives in Horizons Village at the foot of Wintergreen, a strip of Nelson County that may soon be sliced by the proposed $5 billion natural gas pipeline, which is currently slated to run just under 600 miles through Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina, including several historically sensitive areas, national forests and private properties.

Eight months ago, Whiting says he and his neighbors in Horizons Village received a notice from Dominion, which said the company had plans to survey their land at some point in the future.

Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC—a company formed by Dominion Resources, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and AGL Resources—had previously entered properties for inspections without giving landowners a specific date of entry, causing at least 37 Virginia landowners to petition the Nelson County Circuit Court to force Dominion and its partners to give them more notice.

“That means they could come at any time. They could come tomorrow or they could come a year from now,” Whiting says. “How are we supposed to plan to be here?”

According to Whiting, many landowners want to be home when Dominion enters their property to make sure the power company’s crews are following all the rules. The recent ruling in Nelson is another way to hold the company accountable by law, he says.

“It means they have to follow through on their word, which is not something Dominion does very well,” he says.

Judge Michael Garrett ruled that Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC will have to issue new notices of intent to enter with specific dates of entry before inspectors or surveyors may step foot on someone’s property.

Though pipeline opposers say the fight isn’t over yet, they are certain this ruling will set the project back several months—so far, they’ve been able to slow the project down by at least nine months, according to Whiting.

“When you try to stop a pipeline, it’s death by 1,000 cuts,” Whiting says. “It’s very rarely one thing that stops a pipeline. Any little thing added to another little thing makes a difference. It is anything but over.”

In a similar case in Buckingham County, a circuit court judge ruled in favor of the ACP. Whiting says the different rulings make it more likely that the Supreme Court of Virginia will hear the case, and if the higher court sides with landowners, Dominion would have to abide by its ruling in every county in the state.

“In accordance with the court’s opinion, we will revise our landowner notices to include more specific dates so we can survey these remaining properties,” Aaron Ruby, a Dominion spokesperson, says. “Courts in other jurisdictions have reviewed the same landowner notices and found that they met the requirements of the statute, but of course, we will comply with the Nelson court’s ruling in these cases.”

Ruby adds that the Nelson court did affirm, along with every other state and federal court involved, that it is the ACP’s right to perform surveys, and that “surveying performed with proper notification is not a trespass.”

Ernie Reed, a media contact for the 1,000-member group of pipeline opposers called Friends of Nelson, says any time a judge rules against Dominion or the ACP, it is significant, and it “demonstrates that Dominion is not above the law.”

According to Reed, Dominion contacted the Nelson County Board of Supervisors this month about creating a citizen group to work with Dominion on some of the issues surrounding the ACP, and the BOS denied its request.

“We know that a great deal of what [Dominion has] told the public at different times has been far from the truth,” Reed says. “We don’t want Dominion in Nelson County and we’re going to fight until this pipeline is stopped.”

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a proposed $5 billion natural gas pipeline that will run just under 600 miles through Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina, will be visible from 7,178 parcels of land in Nelson County. A judge has ruled in favor of some Nelson landowners.

Pipe Down:

In Nelson, the pipeline’s 1.4-mile wide impact, explosion and evacuation zone endangers:

– 904 properties

– 2,409 homes (including
vacation homes)

– 2,094 people

– 208 acres of impacted forest

Pipeline’s presence:

-Visible from 37 percent, or
7,178 parcels in Nelson

– 26.1 miles of pipeline
in county

*Numbers provided by Key-Log Economics

Related Links: January 21, 2016: Cow knob salamander reroutes Atlantic Coast pipeline

October 6, 2015: Judge sides with pipeline surveyors over landowners

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