On January 14, 2019, State Senator Frank Wagner introduced legislation authorizing utilities to acquire rights of way. [We wonder what help he had from Dominion in crafting the bill.]
Summary as introduced: Public utilities; acquisition of rights-of-way for economic development sites. Authorizes a public utility providing water, sewer, electric, or natural gas service to conduct an Economic Development Program (Program). Under such a Program, the utility is authorized to acquire utility right-of-way for one or more qualified economic development sites. The measure establishes criteria for the Virginia Economic Development Partnership Authority to certify that a site is a qualified economic development site. The State Corporation Commission (SCC) is authorized to approve a proposal for a Program that satisfies certain conditions, including a finding that implementation of the Program will provide significant economic development benefits that might not otherwise be attained absent its approval. A utility’s capital investment is capped at one percent of gross plant investment in the aggregate of all of the utility’s Programs and at $5 million for any specific qualified economic development site.
Wintergreen Property Owners Association released this statement on December 19, 2018:
Following extensive negotiations, Wintergreen Property Owners (WPOA) and Dominion Energy have reached a financial settlement related to the condemnation of WPOA property for construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP). Terms of the settlement are confidential.
The WPOA, while understanding the principle of eminent domain, remains opposed to the chosen location of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline through its property. Like other landowners having property taken through eminent domain, WPOA had no good legal remedy to fight the condemnation of our land. While the settlement eliminates a costly protracted legal battle over condemnation, it leaves open other legal options to protect our community and allows our community an opportunity to move forward.
On Friday, November 16th, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Dominion filed for Quick Take in the US Western District of Virginia Federal Court in Lynchburg. Quick Take takes away the constitutional right to due process for every defendant. It also usurps Congressional authority to make and change laws. Call your Senator and Congressional Representative and tell them to issue a statement telling the courts to stand down!
The video is a crash course explanation of Quick Take and Eminent Domain as it relates to gas pipelines and to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline specifically. Richard Averitt, Nelson County landowner, explains Quick Take in lay terms.
Dominion has just filed petitions for “quick take” against at least 21 Nelson landowners, who will now have to deal with making court filings and appearances during the holidays. Petitions were filed in the US Western District of Virginia Federal Court in Lynchburg.
“Quick take” is a formal process of the exercise of eminent domain in which the government (or in this case, a private for-profit company masquerading as a “public” utility) takes possession BEFORE any court ruling on compensation. In other words, Dominion wants access to begin work on these landowners’ properties BEFORE paying the landowners any money, and BEFORE all permits are in place to allow the ACP to begin construction. Some of the 21 landowners were completely unaware that Dominion had filed against them until the Friends of Nelson Landowner Liaison called them with the information. And some landowners had never even been served with notice of the ORIGINAL condemnation lawsuit, even though it had been filed with the court over a month ago!
Dominion loves filing lawsuits as holiday gifts. In the week before Christmas 2014 they began suing landowners who had refused permission for Dominion to survey their property. Dominion filed lawsuits against 27 Augusta County residents and 20 in Nelson County, requesting the court’s permission to enter the properties and survey potential Atlantic Coast Pipeline routes. Reporting on the filings, the Richmond Times Dispatch quoted Dominion officials, who, by the end of December 2014, expected “to file suit against 56 landowners in Augusta and 122 in Nelson. The court would then start serving notices during the first week of January, and those property owners would have three weeks to answer the complaint. A court date would then be set for hearings in each case.”
It is worth noting that a federal court in North Carolina has issued a stay against ACP’s attempt to acquire rights to a NC property by eminent domain, citing the fact that there are pending legal challenges to the ACP that could result in reexaminiation of the project (see story below). Further, last week in New York a state court ruled that a different pipeline company could not use eminent domain proceedings to cross a landowner’s property because the NY State Water Control had denied the permit for the project.
A Federal Court has issued a 90-day stay in an attempt by Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC to acquire by eminent domain rights to an 11-acre property in Nash County, NC, citing as a major reason the fact that there are legal challenges to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project pending in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals that could result in a re-examination of the project. In its stay order in the case of Atlantic Coast Pipeline v. Winstead, the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the Eastern District of North Carolina stated:
[T]here are considerable challenges to plaintiff’s pipeline project ongoing in the court of appeals, and plaintiff has not sufficiently rebutted Winstead’s argument that, although the current pipeline challenges do not concern the pipeline route in North Carolina, the outcome of one or more of the challenges could cause or require the currently permitted pipeline route to be reexamined, potentially obviating any need to secure an easement on Winstead’s property. In light of all of these circumstances, the Court in its discretion finds that the factors considered tip in favor of granting a temporary stay of these proceedings.
People and Pipelines is a video series featuring people in the pathway of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline – including Nelson County’s Richard Averitt. Through conducted research and on-site interviews, People and Pipelines is a platform for the histories and experiences of people most impacted by the construction of this pipeline. See their Web page for more information and other videos in the series.