Category Archives: Eminent Domain

No Eminent Domain for Private Gain


Based on the remarkable true story of a small-town Emergency Medical Technician named Susette Kelo, who emerged as the reluctant leader of her working-class neighbors in their struggle to save their homes from political and corporate interests bent on using eminent domain to seize land and hand it over to Pfizer Corporation, the movie Little Pink House drew about 175 people to the Stonefield Regal Theater in Charlottesville June 28, 2018, as a fund raiser for Friends of Nelson.

The movie was followed by a discussion of eminent domain as it applies to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, led by Doug Hornig, a writer and former board member of FON, who arranged the showing.

Charles Lollar, an eminent domain attorney who is leading legal efforts to block the use of eminent domain to seize private property for corporate gain, said recent court decisions on the matter have been mixed. He said Dominion Energy, the builder of the pipeline, was trying to forge ahead with construction before the legal challenges are brought to trial.

Lollar urged pipeline opponents to support groups that are fighting to prevent the use of eminent domain, such as the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), Appalachian Mountain Advocates (APPLMAD) and Friends of Nelson.

Lollar said later during a question session that the issue of just compensation for property taken under eminent domain ought to be considered by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. “Energy companies should have to pay royalties as long as the project continues,” he said, rather than just a one time payment for a permanent easement.

Rebekah Sale of the Property Rights and Pipeline Center said her organization was trying to bring together hundreds of groups fighting the same battles against eminent domain. She urged residents to write letters to the editors of local media opposing the use of eminent domain for private gain and to keep pressure on Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to tighten enforcement of regulations to protect water quality and prevent erosion. She said the fight against the Mountain Valley Pipeline by residents in its path “is our fight too.”

Sale called attention to the Pipeline Compliance Surveillance Initiative (CSI) project sponsored by the Alleghany Blue Ridge Alliance (ABRA), which, she said, “is watching Dominion like a hawk.” CSI is flying drones over the MVP route and has caught numerous violations of water quality and soil erosion standards. CSI files reports of violations with state agencies responsible for enforcement.

The audience was reminded several times that the ACP is “not a done deal.” The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is re-examining whether its processes for granting licenses to construct pipelines is proper, including their examination of the need for such pipelines when a corporation like Dominion establishes need by creating companies to buy natural gas from itself.

ACP has not yet received all the permits needed to begin construction, Sale said, citing the 13,000 comments DEQ has received concerning water quality standards. She said the use of eminent domain was a “flat out injustice” and likened the abolition of property rights to communism. People on both the left and right of the political spectrum should be united on this, she said. “It’s an issue of freedom.”

Richard Averitt, whose land in Nelson County is in the path of the ACP, said Little Pink House is “a hard movie to watch,” since his family homestead and business would have the pipeline going right through it. He said he and his wife Jill were “unwilling to concede the taking at will” of their property.

“The whole principle of economic freedom is the ability to decide what something you own is worth,” he said. “My land is not for sale at any price.”

New Videos from BXE

In preparation for their annual three day sharing/training, art-build and action in Washington DC, Beyond Extreme Energy has produced a series of educational videos on FERC, fracking, and extreme energy, created by Maren Poitras and Andrew Geller. (For information about the BXE weekend event, Crack FERC Open, June 23-25, 2018, go to the BXE Web page.)

Video 1: Are Oil and Gas Pipelines for the Public Good? Through the voices of those directly harmed, this video introduces eminent domain abuses and the growing movement of people from many regions fighting back.  View on YouTube.  View on Facebook.

Video 2: Is Natural Gas a Clean Alternative? The notion that fracked gas is a clean transition fuel is widespread. This video debunks the lie.  View on YouTube.  View on Facebook.

Video 3: Greed Pays: Pipelines and Profits, about how greed and profit are baked into the system.  View on YouTube.  View on Facebook.

Video 4: What is FERC? The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is the most dangerous federal agency many Americans have never heard of. We care about FERC because it is in charge of approving–or not–interstate gas pipelines and infrastructure projects. FERC has turned down only 2 gas pipeline projects out of over 500 submitted over the past 30 years. In a world where the impacts of fossil-fuel induced climate change are so clear, and so devastating, it’s absolutely necessary that FERC be replaced with an agency dedicated to an active and just transition off fossil fuels.  View on YouTube.  View on Facebook.

Little Pink House: Special Showing

WHERE: The Regal Stonefield, 1954 Swanson Dr, Charlottesville
WHEN: Thursday, June 28 at 7:30 p.m.
TICKETS: Tickets are $12 general admission, and proceeds from ticket sales will benefit Friends of Nelson. You must buy your tickets online; no tickets will be sold at the door. Purchase tickets here: https://www.tugg.com/events/little-pink-house-dauw

Based on a true story, a small-town paramedic named Susette Kelo leaves a bad marriage, and starts over in a new town. She buys a rundown cottage with a gorgeous water view. She fixes it up and paints it pink. Then she discovers powerful politicians want to bulldoze her blue-collar neighborhood for the benefit of a multi-billion dollar corporation. With the help of a young lawyer named Scott Bullock, Susette emerges as the reluctant leader of her neighbors in an epic battle that goes all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, inspires a nation, and helps millions of Americans protect their homes.

In 2005, the nation was shocked by the Supreme Court’s ruling in Kelo vs. New London. In the judgment, the court said that a local government could forcibly seize people’s homes, through eminent domain, in order to transfer the property to a major corporation for development. The response was immediate. Across the country, states passed legislation and amended constitutions to curtail the power of eminent domain.  In 2012, the people of Virginia spoke out overwhelmingly when more than 2.6 million citizens (74.45% of votes cast) approved amending the state constitution to prohibit eminent domain from being invoked if the “primary use is for private gain, private benefit, private enterprise, increasing jobs, increasing tax revenue or economic development.”

Plaintiff Susette Kelo’s fight has been dramatized in this new film, Little Pink House, starring the brilliant, Oscar-nominated actress Catherine Keener as Kelo.

The film is being distributed in an unorthodox manner. Local people sign up to bring it to their town and, if enough tickets are sold, a screening proceeds at a selected local theater. We are pleased to announce that Doug Hornig has secured a showing of the film in Charlottesville:

WHERE: The Regal Stonefield, 1954 Swanson Dr, Charlottesville
WHEN: Thursday, June 28 at 7:30 p.m.
TICKETS: Tickets are $12 general admission, and proceeds from ticket sales will benefit Friends of Nelson. You must buy your tickets online; no tickets will be sold at the door. Purchase tickets here: https://www.tugg.com/events/little-pink-house-dauw

Eminent domain is a hot button topic here in central Virginia, as Dominion intends to use it to seize private property for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Many of us have been fighting them for several years now, and continue to do so.

We hope to use this event to help educate the public about the importance of fighting eminent domain abuse. Following the film, there will be a panel discussion and Q&A featuring: John Kramer – Institute for Justice, Chuck Lollar – Attorney specializing in eminent domain cases, Richard Averitt – Property owner impacted by Atlantic Coast Pipeline, Joyce Burton – Board member, Friends of Nelson, a nonprofit dedicated to stopping this unnecessary pipeline.

Join us – and bring family, friends, and neighbors! We’ll see you there!

The Little Pink House

George Will’s April 18, 2018, column is on the new movie, “The Little Pink House,” about the Kelo case, in which eminent domain was granted for commercial developers. Will characterizes it as “a bite-your-nails true-story thriller featuring heroes, villains and a history-making struggle over . . . the Constitution’s takings clause.” Those of us dealing with greedy pipeline developers know all about being on the receiving end of eminent domain lawsuits filed by for-profit companies arguing that their pipelines carrying fossil fuel are for the public good.

Will explains the background of the 1998 New London CT case, where a private development company wanted to entice big pharmaceutical company Pfizer to locate on land in a blue-collar residential neighborhood, and the city of New London allowed the development company “to wield the awesome, potentially life-shattering power of eminent domain if, as happened, it failed to persuade all the homeowners to sell for an upscale private development to ‘complement’ Pfizer’s facility. Some, led by Susette Kelo…, refused.”

Kelo vs City of New London, lost in the Connecticut Supreme Court in a 4-3 decision, then went on to the US Supreme Court, which, in a 5-4 decision, accepted the state court’s arguments, virtually erasing the Constitution’s circumscription of government’s eminent-domain power.

Will summarizes the Court’s action: “To seize Kelo’s pink house, New London did not assert blight. Instead, it argued that ‘public use’ is synonymous with ‘public benefit,’ and that the public would benefit more from Pfizer paying more taxes than would Kelo and her neighbors. During oral arguments, Justice Antonin Scalia distilled New London’s argument: ‘You can take from A to give to B if B pays more taxes.’ In a dissent joined by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Clarence Thomas and Scalia, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor warned that the decision’s consequences ‘will not be random’: Factions whose affluence makes them desirable taxpayers and whose political influence makes them politically potent will join governments in seizing the property of low-income citizens who are not as lucrative for local governments.”

The decision gave government officials the power to bulldoze a neighborhood for the benefit of a multibillion-dollar corporation.  Which they did.  BUT THEN – the project that prompted the lawsuit, for which people lost their homes, and for which the residential area was bulldozed, never happened.

Sound like a familiar strategy? You bet it does!

Read George Will’s full column here.

Watch the movie trailer here.

NC Judge Rules in Favor of Two Landowners


On Wednesday March 14, 2018, Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s motion asking a federal judge in US District Court in Elizabeth City NC to force Marvin Winstead Jr., Ronald Locke, and 11 other hold-outs to allow contractors to immediately begin tree-cutting on their land. Standard practice for eminent domain is to pay up front, but since they had been unable to reach any agreement with landowners, ACP asked to use “quick-take,” agreeing to a bond that supposedly guarantees landowners will be paid after a jury determines an appropriate amount.

ACP argued that they would suffer “irreparable harm” if they couldn’t proceed. According to NC Policy Watch, “the landowners will suffer no such harm from allowing construction to begin now, ACP lawyers claim. ‘What is the harm in giving us access now or later?’ Richard D. Holzheimer, Jr., an attorney with McGuireWoods, the firm representing the ACP, asked the court. He acknowledged the project would inflict ‘irreparable harm’ but ‘not from early access.'” [Note the admission by the ACP lawyer that the pipeline would cause “irreparable harm” to landowners.]

On Friday March 16, 2018, US District Court Judge Terrance Boyle ruled that Winstead and Locke do not have to allow Atlantic Coast Pipeline contractors on their property to begin tree-cutting – at least for now – because neither had been given a reasonable opportunity to negotiate with ACP, LLC. Although Winstead received an offer from the ACP in January 2016, a surveyor later told him his property was not on the route. Locke tried to communicate with ACP LLC, but they never responded.

However, Boyle ruled in favor of the ACP in the cases of the other 11 landowners, saying the ACP may invoke eminent domain on their properties. As a security, the ACP must deposit with a federal district court clerk an amount three times the appraised value of each parcel it plans to condemn, and must also obtain a bond twice the appraised value of the parcels.

Read a fuller report on the March 14, 2018, hearing here, and a fuller report on the judge’s March 16 decision here.