Today Appalachian Mountain Advocates (Appalmad) appeared before the Supreme Court of Virginia’s writ panel to argue on behalf of Buckingham County landowners threatened by the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
Appalmad attorney Isak Howell urged the Court to grant our appeal of a ruling allowing pipeline surveyors to enter private property without giving landowners notice of the specific date of entry. Howell argued that Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s practice of entering without first providing this notice is trespassing. Appalmad attorneys originally filed this appeal in April 2016.
A Nelson County court agreed with this interpretation in May. However, contrary decisions in Buckingham and several other Virginia counties remain law until overruled by the state’s highest court.
Appalachian Mountain Advocated maintains that Virginia law allows pipeline surveyors to enter private property without a landowner’s permission only when certain conditions are met. In particular, the gas company must send notice by certified mail warning the landowner 15 days in advance of when surveyors will enter the property.
Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s notice, however, told landowners only that survey crews would enter their property sometime after a particular date – leaving landowners to guess when surveyors would actually show up. Mountain Valley Pipeline surveyors regularly use similar practices.
Appalachian Mountain Advocates has asked the Court to reverse this ruling and clarify the statute requires notice of the precise entry date so that landowners can be home when the surveys actually occur.
This is especially important because the surveys are incredibly intrusive. Surveyors will spend several days on each piece of property surveying, among other things, boundaries, endangered species, plants, animals, streams, wetlands, caves, historical sites, cultural artifacts and cemeteries.
The group believes that common decency, as well as the law, requires Dominion to give landowners the right to be present and to prepare for such surveys. Without knowing the date of the surveys, landowners cannot properly plan for the surveyors to enter their property.
Remarkably, Atlantic Coast Pipelines has regularly refused to tell landowners the days on which it will survey and has, to avoid providing such dates, sought and obtained a Court Order allowing it to enter private property at any time after a certain date, rather than on a particular day. Though at times (and under extreme pressure from locals) Dominion has appeared to recognize the need to give specific notice, the need to clarify state law and fully protect landowners remains.
Appalachian Mountain Advocates is a nonprofit law and policy center representing landowners and other nonprofits in challenging the slate of gas pipelines planned for the Mid-Atlantic.