By Alex Bridges
A natural gas pipeline as proposed in Warren County could hinder development of land eyed for a shopping center, say the property owners and target of a condemnation lawsuit.
Cedarville LLC claims in a recent filing in U.S. District Court in Harrisonburg that Columbia Gas Transmission would need to construct a 24-foot-high "Chinese Wall" through the property for the pipeline. The filing by Warrenton attorney Merle W. Fallon states such a wall would divide the site and isolate 20 acres from the general development of the property.
Columbia Gas in July filed a lawsuit in the court seeking to condemn land on three properties each owned by different entities for easements to construct a pipeline to the site of the Dominion power station. Columbia reached settlements with owners Rappahannock Electric Cooperative and E.I. Du Pont De Nemours & Co. Columbia, represented by Richmond attorneys Travis A. Sabelewski and Justin M. Sizemore, sought partial judgment against Cedarville last month.
Attorneys for Cedarville filed a response Friday and argued Columbia's motion is inappropriate because the utility has failed to provide a full description and appraisal of the property sought for the easement. Federal condemnation practice requires Columbia Gas to provide a description sufficient to identify the property, the defense filing states. Virginia law also requires Columbia Gas provide a more detailed description of the property. The Natural Gas Act also requires Columbia Gas to show the necessity of the pipeline, according to the defense.
Virginia law requires Columbia Gas make a bona fide offer to buy the property from the owner prior to pursing to condemn the land, the defense argues. State code also requires Columbia to provide a written appraisal of the property, if obtained, to Cedarville. The defense states Columbia provided only a three-page excerpt of an appraisal with the initial pleading. Cedarville claims Columbia never provided an appraisal for the land or the measure of damage to the remaining property by the placement of the pipeline.
"Without a comprehensive appraisal of the Property, there is no way to determine the value of the Easements," the defense filing states. "Lacking an appraisal, it is impossible to determine the amount of damage to the residue of the Property since no 'before construction' figure exists."
The property is zoned and approved as a commercial shopping center and construction of the approved plan requires cut and fill, according to the defense. Cedarville attorneys argue the construction and installation of the pipeline in a 50-foot wide easement on the land as proposed would create a 24-foot high wall through the middle of the property. Such a wall would eliminate a potential, approvable Virginia Department of Transportation entrance and isolate a 20-acre portion of the property from the shopping center, according to the defense.
Cedarville's attorneys also argue the owner would lose the right to just compensation if Columbia Gas receives immediate access to the site and begins construction without first determining how the project would affect the value of the remaining property.
The proposed easements cut through the middle of Cedarville's property and endanger the owner's ability to develop the land according to its approved plan, potentially resulting in millions of dollars in damage, according to the defense. Cedarville attorneys argue the court should not allow Columbia Gas to enter the property before the utility obtains an appraisal on the land followed by a posting of a bond adequate to protect the defendant's interests, the filing states.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org