The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia has ruled that Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC (MVP) may exercise eminent domain and condemn 300 properties in the state, but more information must be submitted to the court before accessing most of the land.
MVP filed the lawsuit last October to condemn the properties for permanent easements for the pipeline’s path and for temporary easements to allow construction access. The complaint was filed shortly after FERC issued a certificate order authorizing the project.
District Judge Elizabeth K. Dillon said MVP has “established its right to exercise eminent domain over the properties” and has satisfied the standards for injunctive relief to gain immediate access to them. However, before that can happen, Dillon said all but nine of the properties have to be better appraised to assure landowners are reasonably compensated.
“...Until MVP can provide a more fulsome basis on which the court can assure that just compensation will be paid, the court cannot allow immediate possession at this time as to nearly all of the properties,” Dillon wrote in her memorandum opinion on Wednesday.
The court conditionally granted possession, giving MVP seven days to provide a timeframe for the appraisals and the additional information it requested. As for the nine exempted properties, for which the court said it has adequate information, MVP would be allowed to take possession as soon as it posts a deposit equal to three times the appraisal value for each property and a surety bond to guarantee payment.
MVP welcomed the court’s opinion. “The MVP project team appreciates and agrees with the court’s concern regarding landowners’ interests being protected prior to allowing entrance upon the properties,” spokesperson Natalie Cox said. “To provide adequate security for the landowners, MVP will submit information to the court in order to proceed with this important infrastructure project.”
MVP does not yet have a notice to proceed with construction from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. About 85% of the properties needed for the project have been acquired by the company, which filed its complaint after being unable to come to terms on the land in question, despite having offered at least $3,000 for each, according to court documents.
While the pipeline also cleared one of its last remaining regulatory hurdles in West Virginia late last year, state agencies must still sign off on it in Virginia, where the eminent domain proceedings also have been watched closely.
The 300-mile pipeline would move 2 Bcf/d of natural gas from West Virginia into Virginia and connect with the Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line to move more Marcellus and Utica shale volumes to Southeast markets. It is a joint venture between EQT Midstream Partners LP, NextEra US Gas Assets LLC, Con Edison Transmission Inc., WGL Midstream and RGC Midstream LLC.
Last week, FERC granted the project’s request to start preliminary work on six laydown yards and dozens of access roads in five West Virginia counties. Project sponsors are targeting a 4Q2018 in-service date.