The dominant message, repeating like a song chorus, communicated this advice: Don’t sign anything without consulting a lawyer.
The speaker was longtime environmental lawyer, Joe Lovett, executive director of Appalachian Mountain Advocates. The setting was a church in Blacksburg, where a crowd of more than 225 people assembled Oct. 28 to talk about how to hamstring a mutual foe — Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC.
The company, a joint venture of EQT Corp. and NextEra Energy, wants to build a 300-mile long, 42-inch diameter transmission pipeline to transport natural gas from West Virginia through Virginia to another transmission pipeline in Pittsylvania County.
A Virginia law passed during the 2004 session of the General Assembly allows natural gas companies to access private property, without the owner’s permission, to examine and survey the property for a possible interstate pipeline route.
That holds true if the company or its subcontractor has followed the notification process outlined by the law. Those steps include a request for permission to access the property sent to the owner by certified mail “not less than 15 days prior to the date of the proposed inspection.”
If a property owner does not grant permission, the pipeline employees who come on the property cannot use motor vehicles, self-propelled machinery or power equipment. The Virginia law holds that the natural gas company is obligated to pay for any damage associated with its incursion.
Scott Geller, 72, lives in a picturesque section of Giles County, a county where such settings are the norm.
Geller, a psychology professor at nearby Virginia Tech for about 46 years, said he fails to grasp why a company would route a large natural gas transmission pipeline through Giles County and, more specifically, his beloved 45 acres.
He said he knew nothing about the Mountain Valley Pipeline until friends encouraged him to attend the meeting at the Blacksburg church.
“I was blown away,” Geller said.
He said he better understood then what the consequences might be if the pipeline routes through his property — which includes the Smokehole Cave, visited on occasion by the Cave Club at Virginia Tech, and a house built from circa-1800s hand-hewn logs salvaged from a barn in Draper.
Geller said he has received requests from Coates Field Service, a right-of-way acquisition company working for Mountain Valley, to survey his property.
Initially, he insisted he would not grant permission. He said his denial would, if nothing else, force the pipeline company to jump through the necessary hoops to visit without his permission.
But then he said he felt torn because he would like to educate the company about the cave and other sensitive features of his 45 acres.