Pipeline developers say delays in courtroom could result in big delay for construction

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Lawyers for the Mountain Valley Pipeline say if there are delays in the federal court system, the entire project could be delayed by at least a year.

The pipeline developers wrote in a recent court filing that they need access to all the property no later than this coming Feb. 1 to comply with a window for tree clearing required by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“If MVP is unable to gain access to commence work on each respective deadline, construction of the entire MVP project may be delayed for as much as one year given that the window for tree clearing is limited to only a few months each year,” the lawyers wrote.

The Nov. 22 filing by Mountain Valley Pipeline is part of a federal lawsuit to gain eminent domain access to more than 100 properties in nine West Virginia counties.

The pipeline developers say they need access for easements along the pipeline’s path in Greenbrier, Monroe, Nicholas, Summers, Braxton, Harrison, Lewis, Webster and Wetzel counties.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline, along with the similar but separate Atlantic Coast Pipeline, gained approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in mid-October. One of the commissioners dissented, calling the public interest of the projects into question.

The $3.5 billion Mountain Valley Pipeline would extend 42-inch diameter natural gas pipeline over 303 miles  to transport West Virginia natural gas into southern Virginia.

The MVP will be constructed and owned by Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC (Mountain Valley), which is a joint venture between EQT Midstream Partners, LP; NextEra US Gas Assets, LLC; Con Edison Transmission, Inc.; WGL Midstream; and RGC Midstream, LLC.

In arguing against delays in the courtroom, lawyers for the pipeline developers were responding to an earlier motion by a group of 11 landowners.

Those landowners were asking for MVP’s motion for partial summary judgment to be delayed until all defendants have been served and have had the opportunity for additional discovery. The lawyers for the property owners say a proposed Dec. 13 hearing date is premature.

“Scores of defendants have only recently been served and many apparently have still not been served,” wrote the lawyers for the property owners in a Nov. 15 filing.

“Plaintiff would have all defendants answer the complaint in this action, identify affirmative defenses, respond to a motion to expedite, respond to two motions for partial summary judgment and two motions for preliminary injunction, all without the benefit of discovery.”

The property owners say they need discovery on issues such as the precise location, dimensions, nature, and scope of the easements sought by MVP.

They also want to ask questions about the ability of the pipeline developers to to pay just compensation for all of the property that it seeks to condemn — as well as MVP’s estimate of and basis for just compensation due to landowners.

And they want to ask about the total cost of the pipeline project and all necessary easements, plus MVP’s capital and financing structure.

“Landowners proffer that factual development prior to summary judgment briefing is needed on the questions of (1) whether the property to be taken corresponds to the grant of eminent domain approved by FERC, (2) whether Plaintiff has satisfied the many conditions precedent to construction, and (3) whether Plaintiff has sufficiently substantial assets to adequately assure the payment of just compensation and completion of the project,” lawyers for the landowners wrote.

Mountain Valley Pipeline’s lawyers counter the property owners don’t have standing to speak for the others that it hasn’t yet located. The pipeline developers say only about 10 property owners still remain to be served.

The lawyers for the pipeline developers also contend the property owners’ arguments amount to “nothing more than a collateral attack on the FERC Certificate and its findings and arguments they lack standing to raise, with the goal to delay a project that has been thoroughly analyzed and approved by the FERC and found to be in the public interest.”

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