Category Archives: Easement Agreements

A Look at Easement Negotiations

The Roanoke Times has published an article, titled “Pipeline Easement Agreements Stir Questions, Strong Feelings,” that takes a close look at how easement agreements are proceeding for the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP).  The article reports that easement agreements have varied greatly, with compensation ranging from $1,000 to $356,880, and with some landowners signing company-drafted easement agreements without the help of legal counsel, while other landowners have hired experienced lawyers to help ensure that easement agreements protect their interests and fairly compensate them for losses in property values.  Some landowners have reported unfair and deceptive negotiation tactics on the part of Coates Field Service, an Oklahoma-based company handling easement acquisitions for the MVP, while others have reported fair dealings with the same company.  In Roanoke County, where opposition to the MVP has been strong, a majority of landowners continue to refuse to sign easement agreements. 

Of note in the article is lawyer Chuck Lollar’s advice to landowners facing the prospect of easement agreements and land seizure through eminent domain:  Lollar recommends that landowners approach easement agreements with caution and hire lawyers with experience in easement negotiations, “because the easement language MVP, ACP and other gas companies is using is broad, complicated and somewhat unlimited, and owners generally cannot understand the impact of these permanent easements on their property.”  For example, company-drafted easement agreements for the MVP have included provisions that would allow the company to use any and all parts of a landowner’s property for access during construction, operation, and maintenance of the pipeline and/or the terms by which the company could transfer the easement agreement to another company in the future.  An experienced lawyer can negotiate the terms of these provisions, protecting the landowner’s interests.  Lollar also states that landowners who try to negotiate easement agreements without the help of an experienced lawyer risk “being grossly under-compensated.”

Friends of Nelson continues to encourage landowners to hire experienced legal counsel and to refuse easement agreements for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP).  For more information about easement agreements and eminent domain and how to hire an eminent domain lawyer (including contact information for several eminent domain lawyers), please see our Eminent Domain page

Continuing the Fight

Voices From Bath and Highlanders for Responsible Development co-sponsored a meeting in Highland County on February 1, 2017. at which speakers from five groups discussed the DEIS and offered ways for the many attendees to continue their involvement in the pipeline fight. Speakers included Greg Buppert, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center; Rick Webb, Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition program coordinator; Joe Lovett, attorney and founder of Appalachian Mountain Advocates; Lewis Freeman, Allegheny Blue Ridge Alliance executive director; and Nancy Sorrells, with the Augusta County Alliance. The five agreed FERC had issued an incomplete and inaccurate DEIS.

Greg Buppert said the DEIS “glosses over important impacts. There’s missing information. There’s information that is deferred. But this is the type of impact statement that FERC produces.” He also said the need for the ACP has been exaggerated by a Dominion-created group of businesses. “Our first critical focus will be on the need for this project. There’s evidence that this project is not needed to meet the demand for natural gas. The arrangement of the entities, both building the pipeline and buying the gas, is that they’re all affiliates and subsidiaries of Dominion Resources. You don’t need an advanced degree in economics to know that’s not an arm’s length transaction that’s accurately reflecting the market.”

Rick Webb pointed out an obvious falsehood in the draft EIS. “Here, it says the engineering status and the permitting status are done,” he said. “Both of those are completely false. The engineering is far from being completed and none of the permitting is done.” He also said FERC had dismissed concerns about the potential for water contamination in cavernous karst terrain. “It’s not just where the pipeline crosses. Dominion is only looking at karst features within a certain distance on either side of this corridor. It’s everybody downstream — their water supply is at risk…. Once you get that mud into the subterranean karst system, it takes a long time for it to work its way out.” Webb urged residents downstream from any proposed pipeline activity to write to FERC before the April 6 deadline and request thorough study of potential karst water pollution.

Joe Lovett also urged everyone to file comments to FERC prior to April 6, and asked that they provide copies of their comments and other information to his organization, Appalachian Mountain Advocates. “If you have some data and you think FERC isn’t going to consider it, please let us know, because FERC is obligated to consider all of the relevant information. If they fail to consider it, that’s a flaw and that’s how we win.”

Nancy Sorrells urged landowners to not sell easements and discussed tactics being used by Dominion’s land agents. “This is not a done deal. The land agents who approach you will tell you it’s a done deal and you’d better sign. It’s your right — you don’t even have to talk to them. The spin they put out is pretty incredible. What they try to do is divide and conquer. They’ll say ‘Don’t tell your neighbor, but we’re going to give you a better deal.’ They’ll say ‘If you don’t sign, you’ll be flagged as troublemakers,’ or ‘We’ll just move the pipeline off your property because your neighbors have signed.’ ”

Sorrells distributed an Augusta Alliance information sheet that explains, “Dominion does not have the right to an easement through your property unless FERC grants it the power of eminent domain. That has not happened. Even if FERC ultimately grants Dominion the power of eminent domain (still far from certain), landowners have significant rights involving protection of their property to insure that they are paid the true value of the highest and best use of their property.”

The Augusta Alliance formed the Virginia Easement Action Team, a non-profit education and legal defense group, to assist landowners who do not wish to sell easements to Dominion. More information can be found at www.augustacountyalliance.org.

Virginia Outdoors Foundation Delays Decision on Easement Swap

After a day of public hearings on February 9, 2017, in which overwhelming opposition was heard to Dominion’s proposal to swap open land conservation easement properties to facilitate building the proposed ACP across existing easements, The Virginia Outdoors Foundation (VOF) held a brief closed door meeting and voted unanimously to defer consideration of Dominion’s application. Many speakers recognized the VOF Board’s difficult position, facing intense legal pressure from Dominion on one side, but intense opposition from the public, local Planning and Supervisor’s boards, landowners, and conservation groups on the other.

The Recorder has published an excellent overview of the VOF’s decision and the many comments made at the VOF’s meeting:  “Open-Space Foundation Tables Easement Decision.”

When Dominion Comes Calling – Don’t Negotiate, Don’t Sign!

Pipeline companies are offering landowners money for easements that would allow the companies to run pipelines across the owners land. The best advice: “Just say NO!

Writing in the Charleston WV Gazette, lawyer John Barrett tells us that companies want to get the most flexibility for the least money, and will push landowners hard to get their way. The money offered is not a windfall. Easements mean you can’t do many things you might want to with your land, things like develop it, sell lots, drill wells, put in roads crossing the easement, put up a fence, plant trees. Meanwhile, the company can do what they want (including adding structures, fences, and more) – and the landowner may be liable for damages that occur during and after construction.

“Landowners do not have to accept the company’s initial offer, even if company representatives start talking about eminent domain. None of the pipeline companies have been granted the right to use eminent domain — and it’s possible they never will.”

Read Mr. Barrett’s excellent article on easement offers here.

And if Dominion comes calling on you, please contact Friends of Nelson (after you say NO to Dominion)!

Three Words About Easements

The three words: DO NOT SIGN!

Dominion does not have the right to an easement through your property UNLESS the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) grants it the power of eminent domain. That has not happened. Even if FERC ultimately grants Dominion the right of eminent domain (still far from certain), landowners have significant rights to protect their property and ensure that they are paid the true value of the highest and best use of their property.

Dominion has begun efforts to purchase easements ahead of time, making offers to landowners on both the actual pipeline route and on properties needed for access roads. We understand that one absentee Nelson County owner was offered $31,000, and when the landowner refused, Dominion offered $135,000 – at which point the landowner contacted Friends of Nelson.

$135,000 may sound like a lot of money, but easements are forever. In perpetuity. Because they stay with the property, they can drastically lower the value of the property. The easement owner can clear-cut. They can enter at will. Easements may allow the owning company to transfer other liquids and gases, which in future could be interpreted to include oil, as well as toxic or nuclear waste if they are in gas or liquid form. The owning company can add additional pipelines or expand the existing one. Secondary easements of ingress and egress are considered in case law to be “blanket,” meaning they can run from any public road across any part of the property, even though nowhere shown on a recorded plat. Arguably the entire parcel is encumbered with an “access” easement.

Even if the proposed pipeline is eventually approved, you will likely get more money if you do NOT sign now. You will certainly not get less!

Remember, Dominion has no rights unless FERC grants it the power of eminent domain. And since even the Draft Environmental Impact Statement has not yet been released, power of eminent domain is a long way off! DO NOT SIGN!

If you (or someone you know) receive an easement offer from Dominion, please contact Friends of Nelson, friendsofnelson@gmail.com, or 434-260-3298. We’ll help you find an eminent domain lawyer who will assist you at no cost. See additional information on our Eminent Domain page.

Augusta County ACP Route Landowner Meeting

If you are an Augusta County landowner with land in the footprint of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline or any access roads, please join Appalachian Mountain Advocates and the Augusta County Alliance on Thursday, December 15, 2016, at 6:30 pm at the Augusta County Government Center. Come learn your rights as a landowner, and how you can join together as a community to stand strong against the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

Despite what you might have heard, this pipeline is not a done deal. You have rights as a landowner. We want to help you understand those rights.

Dominion does not have the right to an easement through your property UNLESS the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) grants it the power of eminent domain. That has not happened. Even if FERC ultimately grants Dominion the right of eminent domain (still far from certain), landowners have significant rights to protect their property and ensure that they are paid the true value of the highest and best use of their property.

There will be plenty of time for questions and answers. Part of the evening will be devoted to an exploration of how Augusta County landowners can organize and gather strength in numbers in a united effort to resist this pipeline.

Please note that this meeting is specifically focused on landowners. We appreciate the strong community involvement throughout our region, and encourage non-landowners to focus their energy on other meetings that will continue to happen throughout the coming months.

This meeting is co-hosted by the Augusta County Alliance and Appalachian Mountain Advocates. Both are non-profit organizations which are focused on protecting this unique region. Neither group is seeking payment from anyone who attends this meeting.