Natural gas pipeline opponents asked the Virginia Supreme Court on Tuesday to accept their case to determine whether a state law that allows surveyors onto private property without permission runs afoul of Virginia’s constitution.
The case stems from eight Giles County landowners who declined to allow surveyors on their property for work related to the planned 300-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline that would run from West Virginia to southern Virginia.
But its outcome could affect other proposed natural gas pipelines that would cut through the Virginia mountains, including Dominion Resources’ $5 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
Lawyers from Appalachian Mountain Advocates, representing the Giles County landowners, argue that the surveys violate the state’s constitution in the wake of a property rights amendment approved by voters in 2012.
So far, both state and federal courts have upheld the law allowing the surveys, which are required by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission as part of the process for choosing precisely where a pipeline should go. That law requires landowners to be notified before surveyors enter their property, but allows the surveys afterward regardless of whether the landowners grant permission. The General Assembly has declined in the past two years to change the survey law.
“This is private parties entering private land and we’re saying that’s beyond the power of the government,” said Isak Howell, one of the Appalachian Mountain Advocates lawyers.