Bills to Protect Virginia Landowners in Pipeline Cases Fail

Landowners fighting to keep their property from being taken by pipeline building companies will continue footing the legal bills after two bills failed in the House.

Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, said he introduced the bills to give landowners who don’t want pipeline construction on their land a fair chance against Dominion, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas, Southern Gas and other companies involved in the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

SB 1404 would have required pipeline companies to pick the costs incurred by homeowners in eminent domain legal battles.

SB 1403 sought to amend state law and require the entities acquiring the property to pay all costs of court proceedings. It also would have required pipeline companies to provide compensation for homeowners. The compensation would have been at least 25 percent more than the company’s initial offer for the land.

Because the pipeline project was approved by the Federal Energy Regulation Commission, the companies may invoke eminent domain — a right given to the government to take property for public use — if landowners refuse to accept compensation for their property.

“The pipeline companies have all the power, in the General Assembly and in condemning the property of small landowners,” Petersen stated after the bills failed. “My bills would have leveled the playing field in a small way. The House just missed it. We’ll be back.”

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is a 600-mile underground pipeline that would deliver natural gas from West Virginia to the southwest region of the state and North Carolina.

Over 85 percent of affected landowners have entered into easement agreements to allow construction, according to the project website. Those landowners received compensation. The remaining easements needed to begin construction are being challenged in court. Such legal battles have halted construction. The pipeline was scheduled to start operating this year, but the new estimated completion date is between 2020 and 2021.

Residents have also lost property in the 300-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline project that runs from West Virginia to southwest Virginia. Last year, U.S. District Court Judge Elizabeth Dillon allowed Mountain Valley to seize private property through eminent domain. A group of landowners have requested a hearing from the U.S. Supreme Court, but it is uncertain whether a hearing will be granted.

On Dec. 7, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals suspended a permit allowing the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to cut through two national forests. Dominion plans to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The House denied Petersen’s request to have changes to his bills restored to their original form. House amendments would have made the bill effective only on proceedings that started before July 1 of this year. Both bills failed as introduced. The senator plans to try again in the General Assembly’s 2020 session.

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