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Dominion Goes to Court Over Atlantic Coast Pipeline Survey Access

Dominion Resources Inc. is filing lawsuits against hundreds of landowners in Virginia and North Carolina who have not allowed the company access to their properties for survey work related to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

The company began court filings in Virginia earlier this month after it became evident that some property owners opposed to the project -- which is being backed by Dominion, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and AGL Resources -- were not going to cooperate with a request to survey their land, Dominion spokesman Jim Norvelle told NGI's Shale Daily.

"We sent letters in mid-November advising landowners who have most steadfastly refused to grant us permission that legal action was a possibility," he said. "While this letter was not required by the Virginia law, we thought it was the right thing to do. We wanted to give them a final opportunity to give us permission before going to court."

Norvelle said Dominion is taking legal action against 245 landowners who have refused to grant survey permission. Of that total, 240 are located in Virginia and just five are located in North Carolina. In all, the company will have to work with 2,500 landowners along the pipeline’s proposed route.

Dominion is the project-lead for the pipeline, which was first announced in September. Atlantic Coast will stretch roughly 550 miles to transport Marcellus and Utica shale natural gas produced in West Virginia to power plants and businesses in Virginia and North Carolina, where demand is growing. According to a recent study conducted on behalf of the project's backers by Chmura Economics & Analytics, more than half of the pipeline, or 292 miles, will be located in Virginia, where it is expected to have a significant economic impact both during and after construction.

Norvelle said state circuit courts in Virginia will likely begin notifying landowners next week about the lawsuits. They will then have 21 days to respond to Dominion's complaint, but he added that the company "will gladly meet with landowners to gain their permission and avoid the court hearing."

Virginia law provides survey access for such projects, but according to local news media reports some landowners remain staunchly opposed to the pipeline and called Dominion's notices a scare tactic. Others said they won't change their positions, but would comply with a court order and allow the company access if its lawsuits are successful.

"We decided to proceed with the legal actions because we now need to survey these lands to see if they are suitable for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline," Norvelle said. "We can learn a lot from maps, detailed photographs and publicly available data, but the person who knows about the individual property is the landowner. For example, the landowner may prefer that the route go along the edge of the property to avoid a certain archaeological or historic site, or the family cemetery."

A prefiling has already been made with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), and the company expects to file its formal application this summer. Survey work is expected to continue through June. Norvelle added that the legal actions are not likely to change the pipeline's development schedule, which calls for an in-service date of late 2018. 

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