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 Friday, October 24, 2014
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The Franklin News-Post
P. O. Box 250
310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
Fax: 540-483-8013

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Individual property rights vs. public good

Friday, October 24, 2014

You can't fight city hall.

That may have been the feeling of many Franklin County residents who walked away from a presentation related to the Mountain Valley Pipeline Tuesday night. The natural gas line is coming across the county, from just northwest of Boones Mill to east of Penhook into Pittsylvania County.

We say "is" coming because there seemed to be no doubt about it after listening to Chris Sherman, who is with one of the companies involved in constructing the pipeline, Next Era Energy. The other company is EQT Inc. Mr. Sherman did not use the word "maybe" and the only caveat he presented related to the construction of the pipeline, which is set to start in late 2016, is that a Certificate of Convenience and Necessity must be approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

In fact, most of the property owners who are affected in the county have already received letters asking for permission to access their land for surveying purposes. The surveying is scheduled to be in full swing next month, so both companies have already invested a lot of time and money into this project. The gas line itself is a large one, as much as 42 inches in diameter. Mr. Sherman said the demand for natural gas is high, so a big line will most likely be needed.

It was a telling sign at the beginning of the presentation that board of supervisors Vice Chairman Cline Brubaker made it clear that the county itself has no legislative power to "affect the pipeline in any way." And during the presentation, Mr. Sherman made it clear that, although the companies respect property rights and will work with affected landowners as closely as possible, eminent domain can be used as an option to obtain needed easements.

Mr. Sherman also made it clear that any organized opposition has no affect on where the pipeline will go. Some residents thought the pipeline's route was changed recently to avoid Floyd County because a very vocal opposition group formed there. But Mr. Sherman insisted that group had absolutely nothing to do with the decision to change the route. Rather, it was a matter of finding a more appropriate location to go under the Blue Ridge Parkway, as well as crossing the neighboring Appalachian Trail.

Although in cases like this, property owners receive monetary compensation for easements across their property, that may not be much of a consolation to many of them. No one likes their land disturbed, especially if they have no choice in the matter.

But that's why the government can trump individual rights. If it's for the public good, individual rights must take a back seat.

In this case, the "public good" is providing a valuable fuel that business, industry and the public are demanding. It also has the potential to boost economic development locally as the line can be tapped and natural gas distributed by a local fuel company.

At the meeting Tuesday, Mr. Brubaker said the county has lost at least one potential new business because of the lack of access to natural gas. Both county and town officials have said in the past that quite a few potential businesses and industries have basically refused to even meet with them because of that lack of access.

In fact, a natural gas line has been on the county's long-range plan for many years. But the cost of such a line has been prohibitive.

So make no mistake, access to natural gas is a huge plus for the county and town, and for many residents in the long run.

But that, too, may not be much of a consolation for affected property owners. Property is very personal, and we all understand how upsetting and frustrating it can be to be in a situation where property rights are lost to a degree.

On the surface, the pipeline companies certainly seem to be taking a common sense approach in working with property owners. Mr. Sherman did not hesitate to talk about eminent domain, but he also emphasized the importance of working in lock step with property owners, who will eventually be directly affected, to determine the best, least intrusive, path of the pipeline across their property.

After the property surveys are finished, a more exact route will be determined, and that should be available for review by April 2015, Mr. Sherman said. In the meantime, he urged property owners to allow access to their property and to discuss the easement in every detail possible, especially if accommodations are needed related to the continued use of the land.

No, in the end, you can't fight city hall. But landowners do have rights, and we urge all of them to make sure they know exactly what those rights are.

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