Virginia Supreme Court rules in favor of landowners fighting the pipelines

Today the Supreme Court of Virginia granted an appeal filed by Appalachian Mountain Advocates (Appalmad) on behalf of Buckingham County landowners threatened by the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

The Court ruled in favor of landowners, preventing pipeline surveyors from entering private property without giving landowners notice of the specific date of entry. Appalmad attorneys originally filed this appeal in April 2016, arguing that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s practice of entering without first providing this notice is trespassing.

A Nelson County court agreed with this interpretation in May. However, contrary decisions in Buckingham and several other Virginia counties remained until today’s decision by the state’s highest court.

The Court agreed with Appalachian Mountain Advocates’ argument that Virginia law allows pipeline surveyors to enter private property without a landowner’s permission only when certain conditions are met. In particular, we argued that 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.

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.

We believe 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.

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.