Dominion, farmers dig in for long pipeline standoff

IN THEIR DOMAIN: Augusta County residents listen to representatives from Dominion discuss the utility’s proposed gas pipeline that could run through some of their properties.

By Kenric Ward | Watchdog.org Virginia Bureau

RICHMOND, Va. — Dominion Power is firing back at opponents by shooting down what it calls “myths” over the utility’s proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

A hot-button issue is the potential use of eminent domain to seize private property along the natural gas pipeline’s projected 550-mile route across the state.

Rural groups in Augusta and neighboring Central Virginia counties say the $5 billion venture will disrupt farms and destroy livelihoods by taking agricultural lands.

Dominion says critics are putting the cart before the horse.

DEBUNKING MYTHS: Dominion spokesman Chet Wade says pipeline critics are jumping the gun.

Chet Wade, vice president for communications at the state’s largest power provider, forecasts a lengthy process involving public meetings, court reviews and ultimate ruling by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

“Seeking authorization for eminent domain can come only after the project has been shown to be in the public interest,” according to a Dominion briefing paper.

“In this case, the review is expected to take two years and will include multiple opportunities for public participation.”

Dominion, which operates numerous pipelines, believes a route running from West Virginia to Chesapeake and North Carolina can be accommodated.

“We have avoided the need for eminent domain 95 percent of the time,” Wade said of previous projects.

“We do not want to go to eminent domain,” Wade told Watchdog.org. “If we do, there are accommodations, including easement payments, if crops cannot be grown for a year.”

Under Virginia’s 2004 Wagner Act, a public utility can take property through eminent domain if needed land in any other manner.

Dominion says nearly 70 percent of landowners affected by the Atlantic Gas Pipeline have signed certified letters from the utility requesting permission to survey their property.

But Bonner Cohen, senior policy adviser for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow, said the letters do not contain the option of denying permission.

“Many landowners believe they have no choice but to sign,” Cohen wrote in a new article titled, “Yes to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline; No to Eminent Domain.”

Dean Stansel, an economics professor who co-authored a Mercatus Center study critical of eminent domain powers, doubted that the pipeline would qualify under the law as a “public entity.”

Dominion’s Wade disagrees.

“This will fuel new industries. There is plenty of need,” he said, echoing earlier support from Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

According to a Dominion document obtained by Watchdog, the utility believes the U.S. Environmental Agency’s crackdown on coal makes the gas pipeline a necessity in meeting clean-air standards. Additionally, the document stated:

“Pipeline construction could result in as much as $2.7 billion in new investment throughout the region, support 17,240 jobs, help stabilize both home heating and electricity prices, promote more economic development and generate significant state and local tax revenue.

“Every county along the pipeline’s path will benefit.”

Kenric Ward is a national correspondent for Watchdog.org and chief of its Virginia Bureau. Contact him at (571) 319-9824. @Kenricward

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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