On August 5, 2015, a Circuit Court judge in Monroe County, West Virginia ruled that surveyors for the Mountain Valley Pipeline project could not enter the property of landowners who had refused the company access. At issue was W.Va. Code 54-1-1, et. seq.
The United States of America, the state of West Virginia, and every corporate body politic heretofore or hereafter created by the constitution or statutes of the state, and every corporation heretofore or hereafter organized under the laws of, or authorized to transact business in, the state, for any purpose of internal improvement for which private property may be taken or damaged for public use as authorized in section two of this article, shall have the right of eminent domain, and may exercise the same to the extent and in the manner provided in this chapter, and subject to the restrictions and limitations provided by law.
The decision turned on the definition of “public use.” Derek Teaney, a senior attorney with Appalachian Mountain Advocates, argued on behalf of the plaintiffs. According to Teaney, the surveyors could not enter the property without permission because the developers of the pipeline did not meet the state’s eminent domain requirements. Teaney argued that the transportation of the natural gas via the pipeline would not benefit the landowners along the proposed pipeline route. “There’s no public use in Monroe County,” Teaney stated.
Mountain Valley’s attorney, Charles Piccirillo, argued that the landowners had not shown that they would suffer “irreparable harm” from the survey. Piccirillo further argued that the issue of “public use” should not be raised until the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) grants a certificate of convenience for the project.
According to the Associated Press, Judge Robert Irons agreed with the plaintiffs that Mountain Valley had not met the requirements of W.Va. Code 54-1-1. He stated that there was no evidence to counter the claim that the residents along the pipeline’s pathway would not benefit from the proposed pipeline. He entered a declaratory judgment, saying that “there’s very little benefit to the citizens of West Virginia.” He said that Mountain Valley may be able to exercise eminent domain if they can demonstrate that a West Virginia gas utility company will use the pipeline.
Written by Stephen Kenney - Research Assistant
Center for Agricultural and Shale Law
August 10, 2015