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State defends entry-for-survey law in pipeline case

Amid howls from landowners facing a proposed gas pipeline across their property, the state of Virginia is defending its law that allows utilities to survey private land for such projects over the objections of the owners.

State lawyers today filed a 31-page brief arguing the state law, Va. Code § 56-49.01, does not take property without just compensation and does not otherwise violate the state and federal constitutions.

Similar “entry-for-survey” statutes “date to the very founding of the Commonwealth” and are commonplace in every state, wrote state Solicitor General Stuart A. Raphael in the brief.

Dominion Resources has filed suit against 59 Nelson County landowners to get court approval to survey their land for the company’s natural gas pipeline project. The company announced it was dropping 14 of those lawsuits based on a change in the planned pipeline route.

Nevertheless, Dominion officials told The News & Advance they expect to file lawsuits against a total of 115 property owners in Nelson County for access to their property.

Nelson County has become a focal point of opposition to Dominion’s plan for the $5 billion, 554-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The company has been denied access to more than 70 percent of the affected parcels in Nelson County, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.

The state’s defense of the entry-for-survey law comes in a lawsuit filed by owners of three Nelson County properties asking a federal judge to block the surveys on their land. The plaintiffs claim the pipeline threatens several historic sites.

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