State Intervening in Federal Pipeline Lawsuits

Posted: Updated: Jan 21, 2015 04:54 PM
File Photo: Natural Gas Pipeline File Photo: Natural Gas Pipeline

The state is intervening in a pair of federal lawsuits filed by property owners in the path of Dominion's proposed natural gas pipeline. The attorney general's office will defend the code that the energy company cites as reason its crews can survey on private property without the owner's permission.

Federal law requires the judge to notify the attorney general any time a case questions the constitutionality of a Virginia law. It basically adds the state as a third party with the property owners and Dominion Transmission.

The "no pipeline" plaintiffs in Nelson County will now have to defend their property rights against the state's top lawyer.

In December Attorney General Mark Herring's office filed a notice of intent to intervene in the federal lawsuit against Dominion Transmission.  The attorney general plans to defend the state law that allows natural gas companies to survey private property without the owner's written permission.

In a statement, a spokesman for the Office of The Attorney General says: "the commonwealth needs to be involved because the outcome of the case could affect the various survey laws that allow state and local government engineers to safely and efficiently plan roads, sewers, water lines, and other infrastructure projects with minimal disruption to landowners."

Attorney Neal Walters represents the five property owners in the Nelson case.  “To say, well we have to defend this one because if we don't a bunch of other bad laws will be taken off the book, if I was the attorney general, I'd say let's get all the bad laws off the book,” he said.

Walters argues the law conflicts with the eminent domain constitutional amendment approved by Virginia voters in 2012. “The real issue in this case is about private property rights. It's about the right to say I own private property, I don't want people here,” he stated.

A Dominion spokesman says the company agrees with the attorney general and thinks he is right to support this law. 

The attorney general's office also filed a notice to intervene in a similar federal case against Dominion involving an Augusta County landowner.