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Surveying Private Property: Some Call it Trespassing

Mountain Valley Pipeline Discussion Group

Plans for three new natural gas pipelines in Virginia have been the source of contention between environmentalists and energy companies.

That debate landed in Richmond, as environmental groups pushed for the repeal of a law that makes it easier for energy companies to survey private land. 

George Jones grew up in Giles County on a farm his father bought in 1924.

"This was before the Depression, and he paid for the farm by cutting timber. That was the primary source of his income," says Jones.

Today Jones owns the land, and although he doesn't live there -- it still means a lot to him.

“It’s beautiful for one thing, it’s a good place just to relax,” Jones says. “And I have four children, they would like to build a cabin for a retreat home.”

This summer, Jones found out there are plans to build a natural gas pipeline straight through his property. He got a letter from the company building the pipeline, asking for his permission to come out and survey the land.

"And it had a form in it to send back. So I filled the form in it to send back that they did not have permission to come on to my property," recalls Jones.  

But, they came anyway, multiple times. That's because under Virginia law, even though gas companies have to ask for landowners' permission, they don't actually need it if they're working on a pipeline that goes through multiple states -- like the one that may someday go through Jones' land.

Jones travelled to Richmond to support the repeal of that law. He stood alongside environmentalists like Hannah Wiegard, with the group Appalachian Voices.

"What we want legislators to be aware of is that this constitutes a really serious form of trespassing on landowner's rights,” says Wiegard.

Last year, a similar bill failed to make it out of committee. Wiegard and others like her, hope that won't be the case this year.

But Mountain Valley Pipeline spokeswoman Natalie Cox has said in previous interviews on the topic, that surveying is an important step in the planning process, and this law allows that process to happen in a timely manner.

Mallory Noe-Payne is a Radio IQ reporter based in Richmond.