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Wilson County residents and other North Carolina property owners fighting the Atlantic Coast Pipeline won a small legal victory Wednesday when a federal judge extended a stay in a dozen cases.
In the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, District Judge Terrence W. Boyle had ordered a stay in each of the cases on Jan. 28 and extended the stay by order on March 1. The stay expired on May 31.
Defendant landowners in the cases had filed motions to extend the stays in the cases, which the Atlantic Coast Pipeline opposed.
Two Wilson County properties are part of the order, including a 1.713-acre tract and a 1.687-acre tract.
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s developers, Dominion Energy and Duke Energy, had sought to use “quick take” proceedings to gain access to properties on the project route while settlement of final eminent domain cases had not been finalized.
“Defendants again cite ACP’s suspension of construction activities, the uncertainty of the pipeline’s route in light of ongoing litigation and the burden of the expense of litigation if required to proceed at this time in support of their request for a continued stay,” Boyle wrote in the order. “The court again finds that any prejudice to ACP imposed by a brief additional stay does not sufficiently outweigh the burden imposed on the moving defendants.”
Therese Vick, community organizer for the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League applauded the decision.
“The ACP boondoggle is in trouble, and the company’s latest attempt to bully landowners has rightly been stopped,” Vick said.
The group is assisting with legal representation in three of the cases from Wilson, Nash and Halifax counties.
The stay’s extension means the ACP developers cannot enter the landowners’ property to cut trenches, fell trees, dig or otherwise disturb the land.
“It’s just completely unnecessary expense and aggravation and the judge made a common-sense decision,” Vick said. “This would be just irreparable harm to these folks, these families and farmers and property owners.”
“A quick take is where, before the whole eminent domain case goes to court, and before the judge or jury decide on what the value is of the taking and so on, they can go on and get access to the land,” Vick said.
Boyle’s stay expires on Sept. 23 but is subject to further orders.
Vick said the decision gives property owners “some breathing room.”
“I think it points to how you can stand up to this huge company, that you can say no,” Vick said. “It’s not going to be easy for you. You’re not going to run over us like this. I hope that it will kind of empower people and make people realize that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline doesn’t get the last word.”
In another development Friday, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, struck down the ACP developers’ U.S. Fish and Wildlife permit for failing to protect endangered species along the pipeline’s path.
“In its rush to help this pipeline company, the agency failed to protect species on the brink of extinction — its most important duty. This pipeline would blast through some of the last populations of these rare animals,” said Patrick Hunter, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “There is no evidence that this pipeline is needed for anything other than Dominion and Duke Energy profits. For the sake of these rare species and its customers’ wallets, it’s time for these utilities to walk away from this badly planned boondoggle.”
Construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which is $2 billion over budget, has been stopped since December 2018 due to issues with federal permits. The 600-mile long pipeline would run from West Virginia through Virginia to North Carolina. Some 180 miles would be in North Carolina with 12 miles of the route through western Wilson County.
Dominion Energy did not respond to a request for comment.