Provide access for surveying or face legal action.
That was the message conveyed by Mountain Valley Pipeline this week to landowners in West Virginia who have thus far refused to allow surveying of their property for a possible natural gas pipeline route.
Natalie Cox, a spokeswoman for Mountain Valley Pipeline, confirmed in an email Friday that the company sent certified letters this week to West Virginia landowners who have forbidden access.
She said the letters reiterated the importance of gaining access to property for surveying to help design the best route.
Cox said the letter reminded property owners that granting permission for surveying does not provide property access for pipeline construction.
“While we continue to work with each landowner on an individual basis to alleviate their concerns, these letters provided notification of our intent to utilize legal action to allow our surveyors to access their properties for the purpose of performing environmental survey activity, should the landowner continue to deny property access,” Cox said.
She said she did not have an exact count of the number of letters mailed.
The letter, dated Feb. 24, is from Stephen Hastings, counsel for Mountain Valley Pipeline. Its final paragraph reads, “If we have not received consent to access your property for the surveys, appraisals, tests and studies requested in this letter by March 9, 2015, legal action will likely be taken to obtain the necessary access.”
Mountain Valley Pipeline, a joint venture of EQT Corp. and NextEra Energy, wants to build a 300-mile interstate natural gas pipeline from West Virginia to connect with a pipeline near Chatham. The 42-inch diameter, buried pipeline would transport natural gas at high pressure.
The proposed $3.2 billion project has encountered opposition along its proposed route but has also found support. The Virginia counties that could be included on the pipeline route are Giles, Craig, Montgomery, Roanoke, Franklin and Pittsylvania.
Laurie Ardison, a resident of Monroe County, West Virginia, has been involved in helping to organize opposition there to the pipeline. She reacted Friday to the letter, describing the correspondence as bullying. The tactic might backfire, she said.
“If anything, it seems to me that landowners are digging their heels in further and are calmly saying, with full certainty, that [Mountain Valley Pipeline] ‘will not come on my land,’ ” Ardison said. “I believe these landowners mean what they say.”
Around mid-December, Dominion Transmission and partners in the separate Atlantic Coast Pipeline project sent similar letters to landowners in Virginia who had “steadfastly refused” to grant permission for surveying for that interstate natural gas pipeline, according to Frank Mack, a spokesman for Dominion.
Atlantic Coast Pipeline sought court orders stating the pipeline company’s right to come on the property without permission. Mack said Friday that court dates have not been set.
Cox has said Mountain Valley Pipeline does not envision doing the same in Virginia, where a controversial state law provides natural gas companies access to private property for surveying even without a property owner’s permission.
The law requires that the natural gas company follow guidelines for providing notice via certified mail to such property owners of the company’s intent to be on their land.
“As of today, Mountain Valley Pipeline has not sent any letters to Virginia landowners via certified mail that would act as access notification for surveying purposes,” Cox said.
She added, however, that based on the relevant Virginia law, “natural gas infrastructure projects have the right to access property to conduct surveys.” She said Mountain Valley Pipeline “will follow the protocol of the statute and exercise these rights, if necessary.”
Cox said surveying is necessary to “ultimately determine the route that has the least overall impact on the environment, landowners, and cultural and historic resources.”
Meanwhile, Appalachian Mountain Advocates, an environmental law firm in West Virginia, and Waldo and Lyle, a law firm specializing in representing property owners in eminent domain cases, have been among others challenging the Virginia law that grants access for surveying without a landowner’s permission.
Isak Howell, a lawyer with Appalachian Mountain Advocates, said the issues in West Virginia are somewhat different because of differences in the state’s laws and constitution. Howell said the firm would represent landowners in West Virginia if they request assistance to respond to any legal action by Mountain Valley Pipeline.
Mountain Valley Pipeline recently filed several alternative routes for the pipeline with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. FERC will ultimately decide whether the project should move forward.
A few of the alternative routes travel through Craig County and bypass Giles County. Clay Goodman, county administrator for Craig County, said pipeline representatives are scheduled to attend the March 5 meeting of the Craig County Board of Supervisors.
On Friday, FERC filed letters sent to several federal and state agencies, such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, seeking their assistance “as a cooperating agency” in the development of an Environmental Impact Statement for the Mountain Valley Pipeline.