Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Judge rules against landowners who denied natural gas surveyors access to their properties

Eight Virginia landowners were dealt a blow Monday when a circuit court judge "found that a controversial state law that allows natural gas companies to survey private property without an owner’s permission is not unconstitutional," Duncan Adams reports for The Roanoke Times. The landowners denied natural gas companies entry on their land to survey sites for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a proposed 300-mile pipe from from Wetzel County, West Virginia, to Pittsylvania County, Virginia. Other states have similar laws allowing natural gas companies to enter private land without needing permission from homeowners. (Times map)

Judge Robert Turk said that Virginia law "allows a natural gas company to enter private property for surveying even if its owner has denied permission as long as the company has followed the statute’s notification requirements," Adams writes. "The judge said temporary access for surveying does not represent an unconstitutional 'taking' of property without compensation." He said,“There’s no transfer of ownership of the property."

Adams writes, "The law in question 'takes away the criminal aspect of trespass, something the Virginia legislature has the right to do," Turk said. And it "provides for minimally invasive surveying because such study yields information for route analyses, Turk said. The judge ruled also that Mountain Valley Pipeline can be considered a public service company under Virginia law, which declares that such companies can include gas, pipeline, electric light, heat, power and water and sewer companies."

"Officials in Franklin and Roanoke counties have expressed concern that confrontations between property owners and surveyors could lead to tragic consequences," Adams writes. "Mountain Valley has said its survey crews will leave if asked to do so, in person, by a property owner. But an email earlier this month to Roanoke County from Shawn Posey, project manager for the pipeline project, reported that surveyors 'would leave the property respectfully if the landowner became physical or belligerent.'” (Read more)

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