Pipeline file photo

Nelson County protesters rally against the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Part of the fight against the project centers on citizens’ rights to property.

The (Lynchburg) News & AdvanceFile August

A federal judge late Wednesday evening dismissed two Virginia lawsuits concerning surveying for the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

Judge Elizabeth Dillon of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia ruled in favor of motions to dismiss the lawsuits brought by landowners who claimed the state’s survey permission law violated the U.S. Constitution.

Virginia Code 56-49.01 allows natural gas companies to survey private property. The code also requires notice be received by landowners a minimum of 15 days beforehand.

“A landowner does not have a property right to exclude an authorized utility from entering his property for survey purposes,” Dillon wrote in her court opinion.

Roberta Bondurant, a lawyer, and Angela Stanton, a college professor, have been active in groups in the Roanoke and New River valleys opposing the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

Like the Atlantic Coast Pipeline joint venture, Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC has said 56-49.01 permits it to survey private property without an owner’s permission.

Bondurant and Stanton both disagreed with Dillon’s ruling but said it could be a catalyst for legislative action to repeal the law.

“I believe that this ruling will in no way dissuade citizens from continuing to challenge the survey statute and other laws and regulatory schemes that permit natural gas companies to rape the land, waste the air and water and run roughshod over law abiding and tax paying citizens,” Bondurant said.

Stanton said she hopes Dillon’s ruling “will make people angry and mobilize them to take action” during the election next month.

“Citizens can only effect change by electing members for the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates in November who will work to repeal this statute and other laws that infringe upon the rights of individuals,” Stanton said.

Bondurant said she was especially surprised by Dillon’s observation that although “plaintiffs certainly have an interest in excluding others from their properties, that interest is outweighed by the interest the Commonwealth has in facilitating the supply of natural gas.”

In a press release, Jim Norvelle, director of communications for Dominion, said the company always has believed Virginia law is consistent with the Constitution and allows surveys with proper notification and landowner protections.

“ACP has followed the procedure as laid out in the Virginia law to survey the best route with the least environmental impact,” he said. “The Virginia law allows survey only as necessary to meet regulatory requirements.”

Roanoke Times staff writer Duncan Adams contributed to this report.

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