The fight against a proposed natural gas pipeline is headed to federal court.
The line from Dominion, called the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, would cut through portions of Augusta County, Staunton, and Nelson County. But Friday, people in Nelson have filed a second lawsuit against the company.
People in the county already have a lawsuit in the works in Nelson County Circuit Court against the pipeline, but they filed the new one earlier this week in federal court.
In order for Dominion to continue surveying for the pipeline it would need to go onto a lot of people's properties. There is a state statute that allows companies to do that under certain circumstances. It has to be approved by the state government.
The first lawsuit, filed a few weeks ago in Nelson County Circuit Court, says that state law hasn't been correctly applied in this case. In its 14-page complaint, the more recent federal lawsuit takes an even broader approach, saying that whole law is unconstitutional. The plaintiffs' goal now is to get that entire law thrown out.
"The right to exclude people from your property, to say 'private property you can't come on,' the Supreme Court has held for decades is one of the fundamental rights of property ownership,” said the plaintiffs' attorney, Neal Walters.
Under eminent domain law, the government typically has to compensate property owners if they come onto their property.
Right now, Dominion is unfazed by the push back. “This is something that brings huge benefits to Virginia and beyond,” said Dominion representative Chet Wade.
The company is trying to put a stop to what it says is misinformation that's been circulating.
“It will be underground. This is an underground pipeline. Very little of it will ever be above ground,” Wade said. “People think it's for export. This project is to bring natural gas to Virginia and to North Carolina.”
Meanwhile, attorneys are working to make sure the project doesn't get off the ground.
“What we hope to see is the court to say, ‘Yes. The government and by designation the public utilities can't take your right to keep people off your property without compensating you for it,'” Walters said.
Dominion representatives say right now they have consent to survey 85 percent of the properties along the pipeline's proposed route. That's either from people who gave them permission to survey or people who simply consented by not giving them an answer at all.
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