On December 12, 2017, NBC29 reported that Dominion had begun the process to take land for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline by asking a federal court to allow it to use eminent domain for certain properties along the proposed route. Some of the affected landowners first learned of the suits against them from news reports.
Jonathan Sokolow’s article in Blue Virginia on December 18, 2017, has the eye-catching headline, Dominion Sues to Condemn Ralph Northam’s Family Farm to Build the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Everything but the Ralph Northam part is true – but less well known and less powerful Virginians are not so lucky.
“Dominion, the main company behind the ACP, is not deterred by the fact that the Virginia State Water Control Board just refused to issue a permit to start construction until further studies are completed. Nor is Dominion deterred by the fact that three of the seven members of the Board voted outright to kill the project – meaning one more no vote in the future, which is very possible, would stop the pipeline in its tracks. These facts did not prevent Dominion from ruining the holiday season of many Virginians.”
Sokolow writes about property owners with 2 acres, 5 acres, 10 acres “sued by Dominion in federal court on December 8 in an action to ‘condemn’ – that’s the word Dominion uses -” their properties. Dominion also sued Variety Shade Landowners of Virginia to condemn a 1.86 plot they own – ironic, because Variety Shade previously sold Dominion 68 acres in Buckingham to build the massive compressor station. But Dominion now wants that additional 1.86 acres.
Imagine you own and live on one of these small plots. “Dominion wants ‘immediate entry and possession’ of the property. It claims that it ‘must begin construction of the ACP project as soon as possible’ because that is the timetable Dominion set. Dominion wants the unfettered right to ‘construct, operate, maintain, replace, repair, remove or abandon the ACP Project’ – yes, they want to reserve the right to abandon the project – and it wants the right to ‘change the location of the installed pipeline’ on the property ‘as may be necessary or advisable.’ …. Dominion wants the right to enter and leave the property ‘through any existing roads on the Property’ – for example, a driveway – and that Dominion intends to use those roads ‘to transport pipe, vehicles, machinery, persons, equipment, or other materials to and from’ the property. And Dominion seeks a court order to allow it ‘to fell trees and clear brush or other vegetation as necessary.’ …. Dominion tells the court that the owner of the property can still live there and use his property ‘in any manner that will not interfere with the use and enjoyment of Atlantic’s rights.'”
Yes, the rightful owners may use the property as long as they do not interfere with Dominion’s “use and enjoyment.” And to top it off, Dominion says it would suffer “irreparable harm” if the properties are not condemned immediately, while the harm to landowners would be “slight at best.”
(For a description of what “slight at best” might mean just during the construction process, read the December 18, 2017, article about Atlantic Sunrise construction by Jack McCallum, What happens when a pipeline is built in your backyard.)
Harking back to his startling headline, Sokolow says, “We have commented elsewhere about the failure of many Democrats, particularly in Northern Virginia, to speak out against the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines – what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called the ‘appalling silence’ of the good people. One wonders whether Ralph Northam would stay silent if the land being condemned belonged to him. What if these condemnation proceedings were taking place in Arlington, or Alexandria, or Falls Church, or Fairfax, or Reston? What if Dominion wanted to take your land and was telling a court that the harm you would suffer would be ‘slight at best?’ Would you stay silent?”