By Duncan Adams, Roanoke Times
If nothing else, a ruling Tuesday by a judge in Suffolk Circuit Court delays Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s campaign to gain access to about 50 acres of private property in the city without the owner’s permission to survey for a possible route for a portion of the interstate natural gas pipeline.
Judge Carl Eason found that Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s notice to Davis Boulevard LLC, a residential developer, of the pipeline company’s intent to survey the property without permission was flawed because the notification came from Dominion Transmission Inc. — one of the partners for the proposed pipeline — and not Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
Jim Norvelle, a spokesman for Dominion and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, said the ruling is largely a technical matter and will not impact the project schedule. New letters will be sent from Atlantic Coast Pipeline, he said.
Even though the ruling focuses on a single case in Suffolk, a lawyer from the Norfolk firm of Waldo and Lyle who represented Davis Boulevard LLC and its managing partner believes Eason’s decision could have broader implications and consequences for the project.
“It can be used as persuasive authority in all Virginia courts, but it is not binding precedent,” Chuck Lollar said. “We are continuing to schedule hearings in other circuits where Atlantic Coast Pipeline has filed suits [seeking access to private property for surveying].”
Dominion, Duke Energy and other partners have said they want to build and bury a 42-inch diameter pipeline of about 550 miles to transport natural gas at high pressure from West Virginia to markets in the southeastern U.S. The $5.5 billion project is in the early stages of seeking approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Atlantic Coast Pipeline, like the backers of the separate Mountain Valley Pipeline project, has been seeking permission from property owners to survey their land as the companies try to identify a pipeline route.
An untold number of property owners have refused to grant permission, which has led Atlantic Coast Pipeline to sue them to gain access — citing a controversial Virginia law that allows such access without permission as long as notification requirements are met.
Mountain Valley Pipeline has threatened to sue landowners in West Virginia, which has a similar state law.
Norvelle said Dominion Transmission Inc., the original sponsor of the project, sent the initial letters requesting permission to landowners beginning in May. The project was renamed the Atlantic Coast Pipeline in September as a joint venture with Duke Energy and other partners, he said.
The partners have said the pipeline offers a host of economic benefits and helps support the nation’s energy independence.
Meanwhile, Lollar said Eason’s ruling is good news for opponents of the project.
“Even with $5 billion plus to spend, the project is getting bogged down and that is a good thing for Virginia property owners who may be permanently impacted by the gas pipeline,” Lollar said. “Permanent is an eternity to them.”