ROCKY MOUNT — The Franklin County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday in support of negotiating an easement agreement with Mountain Valley Pipeline.
Franklin County was among the hundreds of landowners Mountain Valley filed a federal lawsuit against last month to initiate acquiring easements through eminent domain.
County Attorney Jim Guynn said the supervisors had to take some action. If they were satisfied with the offer, they could accept it. If not, he said, the board had two options: leave it up to the courts to decide the value of the land, which could be costly and time-consuming, or negotiate with Mountain Valley.
Guynn said that the court would simply be establishing a price — not ruling on the validity of the project or the company’s ability to take the land.
From a legal standpoint, Guynn said, supervisors had to consider one question: “Do you stand to gain enough to offset the cost of the litigation?”
“And at this point based on an analysis of what other easements have gone for to people who have accepted payment from MVP, you’d have to get an awful lot more by way of litigation to justify the cost of litigation,” Guynn said.
Boone District Supervisor Ronnie Thompson, who has publicly opposed the pipeline, said he wasn’t willing to accept any offer from Mountain Valley yet. Pipeline opponents in the audience cheered and clapped in response.
“It’s not a done deal. I just don’t see us in a position to be — I hate to use that particular term, but for lack of a better term — selling out our citizens,” Thompson said.
But fellow board members outnumbered Thompson, the lone “no” vote, and directed County Administrator Brent Robertson to begin negotiations with Mountain Valley. Union Hall District Supervisor Tommy Cundiff abstained.
The county previously considered entering into an easement agreement in October 2016 that would grant Mountain Valley temporary and permanent easements on the county’s Summit View business park property for just under $92,000. Robertson said Tuesday that Mountain Valley has not changed its offer.
Supervisors voted against entering into the agreement last year, saying it would be premature to do so when the project had yet to receive approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
The agency granted the project a “certificate of public convenience and necessity” in October.
Less than two weeks later, Mountain Valley filed its federal lawsuit against landowners. The pipeline still needs to earn permits and authorizations from other state and federal agencies before construction can begin.
In other actions:
- The supervisors voted to establish a broadband authority in which they will serve as members. Though the board is not interested in becoming a full-fledged broadband internet service provider, creating an authority would enable the county to manage property and enter into contracts with third-parties to provide services and borrow and lend money to provide services, said Steve Sandy, director of planning and community development.
- Robertson said discussions about a lease agreement that would bring all Department of Social Services employees under one roof at Schewels Franklin Plaza are ongoing, but he was not ready to bring a lease to the board for its approval yet. Supervisors said they also wanted county staff to explore another option proposed by the owners of the building the department leases on Virgil H. Goode Highway. The owners wrote an email to board members asking for “the opportunity to bid/discuss a proposed building addition to accommodate the entire department under one roof.” Robertson said he would come back to the supervisors with a proposal in December.
- Supervisors revisited a $2.2 million appropriation request the school district brought to the board last month. The total included $444,138 in carryover funds from the previous fiscal year, $880,000 set aside annually for school capital projects, $561,190 in debt dropoff and $340,000 for school buses. Though school district officials were warned they should not count on receiving the money from debt dropoffs in the future, supervisors voted 6-1 to provide the full $2.2 million to the schools, with Thompson voting no.