Pipeline surveyors, landowners at odds in Roanoke County

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ROANOKE CO., Va. (WDBJ7) "Excuse me folks. Are you able to say what your business is here today," asked pipeline opponent Roberta Bondurant, as a survey team of more than 30 people arrived on Bent Mountain October 10th.

Bondurant was there to make sure they followed the letter of the law, only surveying property for which the company had provided proper notice.

Several days later, we met with Bondurant and members of the Terry family as they staked out the entrance to a portion of their land, where surveyors had appeared earlier that morning.

"The next thing I knew there were about 5 trucks, maybe about 20 surveyors," said Elizabeth Terry Reynolds. "I went up to 'em and asked them what they were doing, and asked them not to step on the property."

In the past, if the landowner was present and called police, Roanoke County officers would ask the survey crew to leave until the company obtained a court order.

But recently that changed when the company said it would assert its rights under state law.

Roanoke County Police Chief Howard Hall says his officers are caught in the middle.

"If the pipeline company appears to be following the statute as it's written, we're not directing them to leave," Hall told WDBJ7. "At the same time we're not facilitating their entrance on the property."

"We're very frustrated with the county's response," Bondurant said in an interview.

Pipeline opponents and landowners want the police to be present, and they want the county to join them in a legal action they say would resolve questions about access, for landowners, county officials and the MVP survey crews.

"We would just appreciate the sort of consideration that goes along with fundamental rights of privacy," Bondurant said, "and where that privacy emanates from is from the right to own and keep your hard-earned property."

MVP says it respects the rights of landowners and is committed to building the pipeline safely and responsibly.

The company says there are relatively few locations along the proposed route where MVP continues to face objections, that it's moving forward with surveying activities allowed by state law.

But for now, it appears the tense interraction between the landowners and survey crews will continue in Roanoke County.

Following is the complete statement from MVP spokesperson Natalie Cox:

"For more than two years, the MVP project team has been working in good faith with landowners along the proposed and alternative routes to obtain permission to survey their property in order to determine a route that has the least overall impact on landowners, the environment, and cultural and historic resources. It is always our preference to perform surveys with each landowner’s permission, and while most landowners have given us authorization, others have continued to deny property access."

"For a very small subset of parcels and locations along the proposed route where MVP continues to face objection, MVP is moving forward with surveying activities as permitted by the Virginia statute."

"At present, approximately 95% of surveying activity is complete, the data of which has enabled Mountain Valley to provide the October 2016 updated route displaying a comprehensive alignment of the minor adjustments that have been incorporated since October 2015. There have been hundreds of minor route deviations as requested by landowners, demonstrating the importance of accessing landowners’ properties to conduct survey activities. The updated proposed route encompasses various revisions resulting from survey data, which include the protection of streams, wetlands, and cultural resources, as well as the avoidance of or modification to several sensitive areas and karst topography regions."

"From the start of the MVP project, we have engaged with landowners and communities along the route because we know their feedback is invaluable in helping us to refine and define the best route possible. We are committed to building the Mountain Valley Pipeline safely and responsibly and above all else, we respect the property of every landowner along the route. The safety of our communities, our employees, our contractors, and our pipeline will always remain a top priority – as will the preservation and protection of the environment."