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.”