FERC is turning a cold shoulder to landowner’s property rights

ACP’s Restoration Plan does not deal with the issue of restoring landowners’ property rights.  Easements held by Dominion are a serious, continuing and completely unwarranted burden on as many as 250 properties in Nelson County.  The easements seriously burden an owner’s ability to use or sell property since they are prohibited from erecting structures such as a house or barn, planting trees and moving earth within the easement.  Peace of mind also is affected due to the threat that Dominion/ACP could someday transfer the easement to the developer of another project.

FERC says ‘not my department’ in a recently published Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (DSEIS). Friends of Nelson, as well as lawyers at the Southern Environmental Law Center and the Niskanen Center and others have submitted multiple comments pointing out that ACP’s Restoration Plan does not deal with the issue of restoring landowners’ property rights.  

ACP has indicated that they will not release ANY of the temporary easements until after ALL restoration work is completed on ALL properties along the pipeline route.  This despite the fact that 376 miles of the pipeline (and all but one parcel in Nelson) had no tree-felling or construction impacts on them whatsoever.  This could take 3-5 years, or more.   This is ridiculous and unfair. 

ACP has stated publicly that they have no intention of voluntarily releasing the permanent easements, but that landowners MAY, at some unspecified time in the future, have the opportunity to negotiate with them some reduction in the restrictions.  Again, this could take 3-5 years, or more.

Friends of Nelson finds ACP’s plan is unacceptable. And because FERC is the one who granted eminent domain to ACP in the first place, now that project has been cancelled, we believe that FERC has an obligation to step up and help landowners get released from these easements.   Landowners shouldn’t have to fight Dominion on their own (again)!

In the newly released DSEIS, FERC staff asserts that because the easements are not an “environmental” issue, they are outside the scope of the environmental review process.  In other words, FERC is saying “not my department”.  We must not let them shrug our concerns off this way.  

Please submit comments to FERC and state that — regardless of whether staff thinks they are appropriate for inclusion in the EIS process — they must be forwarded to the Commissioners so that concerns about the easements can be taken into account when the final Order is issued later this year.  

If you need help filing your comments, you can refer to the Guide we have prepared with step-by-step instructions, or commenting and/or becoming an intervenor.  

Possible talking points include:

1) ACP must IMMEDIATELY release the temporary easements on all properties that had no tree-felling or other impacts from the project.  It is grossly unfair to force landowners to wait YEARS for this relief when no actual restoration work is required on their land and their land is not needed for access to the areas being restored.

2) FERC granted eminent domain to ACP, which enabled ACP to coerce easement agreements with landowners who felt they had no choice but to sign.  Because of their role in this, FERC is morally obligated to help landowners regain control of their lands now that the project has been cancelled (and thus the original justification for granting eminent domain no longer applies).  The Commissioners should make permanent easement release a condition of any restoration order.

3) Simply excluding our easement concerns from the EIS on the grounds that they are “not an environmental issue” is unacceptable and a dereliction of FERC’s recently touted duty to make its process more easily navigable for landowners.   Stakeholders must be given a way of bringing their legitimate concerns before the Commissioners so that they can be taken into account when the final order is crafted.   If the EIS process is not the right venue for that, FERC should clearly lay out for landowners what other recourse is available to them.

Friends of Nelson