Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC sues hundreds of Virginia landowners

BOONES MILL, Va. (WDBJ) - People across Virginia are learning they're being sued by the company that's hoping to build the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

More than 300 landowners in Virginia are named in this recent suit, which doesn’t include landowners also being sued in West Virginia.

Some of those being sued in Virginia are already in the process of taking their own legal action against the pipeline.

That includes Stephen and Anne Bernard.

They are two artists who have lived and worked in Boones Mill for a few decades. The view of the mountains and valley behind their property often inspires their work.

"It never gets old,” Anne Bernard said. “It really doesn’t."

But what they say has gotten old is the worry over the Mountain Valley Pipeline, slated to run through their property.

"And it's hard to sleep at night sometimes just thinking about there being a 42 inch, high pressure, gas pipeline about 150 feet from where you're sleeping," her husband Stephen said.

The Bernards found out they were being sued Thursday.

In the Notice of Condemnation delivered to their home, officials wrote in part, "You own or have interest in the property over which easements for the Pipeline are being taken by condemnation."

The documents state that MVP seeks to acquire rights and easements over 1.53 acres of their property.

The couple was already part of a group of local landowners suing the Mountain Valley Pipeline, The Atlantic Coast Pipeline, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. But they say this was a first.

"This is the first time that I've ever been served papers of any kind, and that was a surreal moment for me,” Stephen Bernard said. “To have somebody walk up to you and hand you this that you're going to be going to court, that's a striking thing."

The Bernards are worried about losing the serenity of their property and what it might do to affect their art classes hosted on-site – their only stable source of income. They are worried their property value will be negatively affected and they are worried about their safety if something goes wrong. For the past three years, they say they’ve been writing letters, going to meetings and hosting events for others protesting the pipeline.

Charles “Chip” Lollar is one of the Virginia-based attorneys hired by some landowners following this notice.

"I can't remember a time in the recent past 10 years of there being any pipelines of this magnitude in Virginia where 300 people were sued,” Chip Lollar told us in a phone call Monday. “So I would say in my lifetime this is unprecedented."

Lollar said he’s being contacted by some people who, up until now, have not done much in the way of fighting against the pipeline. He said now is crunch time.

"The whole thing really presents a due process question on whether or not you know governmental entities or specifically, in this case, private entities should be able to get your land as fast as they can,” he said.

Lollar said the suits were just one aspect of this lawsuit.

"They filed a motion for partial summary judgment, immediate access and possession of the easements condemned,” Lollar said. “So essentially they want to be able to you know get right to the land, get on the land and be able to do what they want with the land."

Lollar said hearings could begin as soon as December. Landowners have 21 days after receiving the notice to serve an answer on MVP’s attorney.

The notices say, “Failure to serve an answer will constitute consent to the taking and to the Court’s authority to proceed with the action and fix the compensation.”

The Bernards said they won’t give up trying to prevent the pipeline.

"We'll continue fighting until the time that we can get adequate and just compensation," Stephen Bernard said.

We reached out to the Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC for a statement on these letters of condemnation.

A representative responded in an email:

“As Mountain Valley has done since the inception of the project, plans are to continue to work with all landowners along the MVP route in an attempt to fairly compensate them for the necessary easements. As this is ongoing litigation, we are unable to make specific comments on the condemnation complaint or potential court hearings.”