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Dominion Sues to Condemn Ralph Northam’s Family Farm to Build the Atlantic Coast Pipeline

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by Jonathan Sokolow

Every part of that headline is true – except, of course, the reference to Ralph Northam.  Governor-Elect Northam’s 75-acre family farm on the Eastern Shore is far from the path of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and therefore safe from Dominion’s claws.  But other less well known and less powerful Virginians are not so lucky.

Dominion, the main company behind the ACP, is not deterred by the fact that the Virginia State Water Control Board just refused to issue a permit to start construction until further studies are completed.  Nor is Dominion deterred by the fact that three of the seven members of the Board voted outright to kill the project – meaning one more no vote in the future, which is very possible, would stop the pipeline in its tracks.  These facts did not prevent Dominion from ruining the holiday season of many Virginians.

Just ask Robert Calvin Day, Jr., who was sued by Dominion in federal court on December 8 in an action to “condemn” – that’s the word Dominion uses – his 2 acre property in Buckingham County.

Ask Chase Dunnavant, who owns 5 acres in Buckingham that Dominion wants to condemn.

Ask Bertese Booker, who owns 2 acres in Buckingham and was just sued last Friday and probably does not even know it yet.

Or ask Samuel Ray Shaeffer, Thomas  Smith, Jr. and Sharon Smith – they also were sued on Friday and probably don’t know it – who own a 10 acre parcel in Buckingham.

Or ask Quinn Robinson, who last week said he did not know he had been sued until a reporter told him.

Or ask Variety Shade Landowners of Virginia, which owns a 1.86 acre parcel in Buckingham and also was sued on Friday.  This lawsuit is particularly ironic, because Variety Shade previously sold Dominion 68 acres in Buckingham to build a massive compressor station, the linchpin of the entire pipeline.  All of that land was owned by the Variety Shade ancestors, who ran a slave plantation by the same name, and the compressor station would run right through the middle of an historic 85% African American community made up largely of people who descend from freemen who worked that plantation.  That story is told here.  Apparently, Dominion’s way of thanking the Variety Shade descendants for the sale is to sue them for an additional 1.86 acres that they refused to give up.  With friends like Dominion, who needs enemies?

If Ralph Northam’s sprawling farm was on the chopping block, this is what he would be reading in the hundreds of pages of legalese that are often duct taped to landowners’ doors.  The complaint against Mr. Day is typical.

Dominion wants “immediate entry and possession” of the property.  It claims that it “must begin construction of the ACP project as soon as possible” because that is the timetable Dominion set. Dominion wants the unfettered right to “construct, operate, maintain, replace, repair, remove or abandon the ACP Project” – yes, they want to reserve the right to abandon the project – and it wants the right to “change the location of the installed pipeline” on the property “as may be necessary or advisable.”

If Ralph Northam owned Robert Day’s 2-acre plot, he would understand that Dominion does not just want the right to dig a ditch and lay a little pipe.  Northam would be reading that Dominion wants the right to enter and leave the property “through any existing roads on the Property”- for example, a driveway – and that Dominion intends to use those roads “to transport pipe, vehicles, machinery, persons, equipment, or other materials to and from” the property.  And Dominion seeks a court order to allow it “to fell trees and clear brush or other vegetation as necessary.”

If this was Ralph Northam’s farm, he might be wondering how he could live there while Dominion cuts his trees, uses his roads, digs its ditches and transports its workers and materials.

The good doctor would not have to wonder long:   Dominion tells the court that the owner of the property can still live there and use his property “in any manner that will not interfere with the use and enjoyment of Atlantic’s rights.”

Let’s read that again.  Dominion wants to take these properties from their rightful owners, but those owners can still use their own property as long as it does not interfere with Dominion’s “use and enjoyment.”

Given that absurd statement, it should surprise no one that Dominion falsely tells the federal court that it “is in the process of constructing” the ACP.  The federal court might be confused by that claim, given that the spokesman for Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality just said that the Water Board ruling means no construction activities can take place.  None.  It would not be the first time Dominion has lied about the ACP  – and it likely is not the last.

Finally, Dominion’s claims that it would suffer “irreparable harm” if these properties are not immediately condemned.  And without a hint of irony – or conscience – Dominion claims that the harm that Mr. Day and the other landowners would suffer would be “slight at best.”  That is a direct quote.  To paraphrase the Supreme Court in its infamous Dred Scot decision, Virginians have no rights that a big company is bound to respect.

We have commented elsewhere about the failure of many Democrats, particularly in Northern Virginia, to speak out against the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines – what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called the “appalling silence” of the good people.  One wonders whether Ralph Northam would stay silent if the land being condemned belonged to him.  What if these condemnation proceedings were taking place in Arlington, or Alexandria, or Falls Church, or Fairfax, or Reston?  What if Dominion wanted to take your land and was telling a court that the harm you would suffer would be “slight at best?”  Would you stay silent?

Or would you find the silence of others appalling?

Which raises the question: will Ralph Northam be a Governor for all of Virginia, including Mr. Day and his 2-acre parcel in Buckingham County?  Will Ralph Northam be a part of the solution – or will he be part of the problem?  We are about to find out.