As MVP Gears Up for Feb 1 Construction, WV Landowners Try to Block

A relatively small number of landowners in West Virginia is using a novel legal argument to try and stop Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) from beginning construction. MVP is a $3.5 billion, 303-mile natural gas pipeline that will run from Wetzel County, WV to the Transco Pipeline in Pittsylvania County, VA. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued a final approval for the project in October (see FERC Approves Atlantic Coast, Mountain Valley Pipeline Projects). In order to keep the project on track for completion by the end of 2018, they need to begin tree clearing no later than Feb. 1st. Problem is, there are landowners in WV (and VA) who won’t negotiate with MVP on leases–so MVP has sued them using eminent domain. Here’s what typically happens in an eminent domain case (knowledge we gained at a session at last year’s Shale Insight event): Since this is a federally regulated project, MVP has the right (under FERC authority) to use eminent domain to “condemn” properties where the landowners won’t play ball. The cases are typically filed in U.S. District Court–in this case for the Southern District of West Virginia. MVP filed that paperwork back in October. What usually happens next is that the judge/court will grant an order allowing the pipeline company to enter the property and do the work–but the details about how much money the landowner gets is not decided, sometimes for a year or more. That’s a separate issue. First the company is allowed in and does the work, later on the court will decide how much money to award the landowner for the work. However, the WV landowners filed a response and motion for partial summary judgment in late December that makes the argument that how much each landowner gets should come first, before MVP is allowed on their property. Frankly, it just doesn’t work that way. Question is, what will the justices do in this case?…

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