February 5, 2016

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SUFFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — The proposed natural gas pipeline that would run across Virginia hit a bit of a speed bump in Suffolk on Tuesday. A judge ruled crews from Atlantic Coast Pipeline won’t be allowed on private property, at least for now.

“You got to admire Virginians standing up for their rights and property rights, fundamentally,” attorney Chuck Lollar said.

That fight came to a head inside a Suffolk courtroom Tuesday. Property owner Paul Warner planned to have his 50 acres of land near Davis Boulevard turned into a neighborhood. Then he was told the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline would cut across his property.

Dominion Power and Duke Energy are moving forward with plans to erect the 550-mile natural gas pipeline. Their crews wanted to go onto Warner’s property, take soil samples and survey the land, but he refused. So the pipeline group decided to sue him, but not just him.

Letters were sent to property owners informing them of crews who would want to conduct surveys on their land. But the letter was not always well received. Warner is just one of 100 similar cases statewide, where property owners are being sued for refusing the land surveys.

“Generations have been fighting to keep the farm going,” said Suffolk’s Buzz Upton. His family family has had farmland in the Nansemond area for more than a century. He, too, refused to let utility crews on his land. He believes the pipeline would kill his property value.

“That would be gone with a stroke of a pen,” Upton said.

Attorney Chuck Lollar argued the letter sent to property owners by Dominion Transmission, LLC should have come from the Atlantic Coast Pipeline group. And a Suffolk judge agreed, siding with Paul Warner and other land owners.

“I don’t think this is going to stop them completely,” Lollar said. “I think they are going to run into this problem in the other courts that they have filed suit in.”

“Today was a good day, but it’s going to be a long fight,” Upton said. “It’s going to be a long fight.”

Spokesman Frank Mack released the following statement about the Suffolk ruling, on behalf of Dominion”

The Suffolk Circuit Court ruled today that we did not meet the state statute because letters mailed to the landowner came from Dominion Transmission, Inc. (DTI) and not from Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC (ACP), and cannot be transferred. This is largely a technical matter that will be remedied by resending the two letters as required by the state statute from ACP instead of DTI.  It does not impact the project schedule.  DTI was the original sponsor of the project and sent the initial letters requesting survey permission to landowners beginning in May.  In September, the project was renamed ACP as a joint venture with  Dominion, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and AGL Resources, the parent company of Virginia Natural Gas.

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