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Franklin County landowners settle lawsuit against Mountain Valley Pipeline
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Franklin County landowners settle lawsuit against Mountain Valley Pipeline

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Mountain Valley Pipeline

Cahas Mountain Road is covered with mud running off the Mountain Valley Pipeline construction site on May 18, 2018.

Six Franklin County landowners whose property was swamped by muddy runoff from the Mountain Valley Pipeline three years ago have settled their lawsuit against the company.

Terms of the settlement were not disclosed in a brief order filed in Roanoke’s federal court.

Brought in May 2018, the lawsuit sought damages for three couples who live a short distance from Cahas Mountain Road, which was buried in about eight inches of mud that washed from a construction site during heavy rains.

The runoff continued downhill to land owned by Wendell and Mary Flora, leaving a blanket of sediment and muddy water that covered hayfields and made its way into nearly streams, the lawsuit alleged.

Glenn and Linda Frith and Michael and Frances Hurt, who live less than half a mile away, claimed they suffered similar harm from erosion caused by a several-day storm that started May 15, 2018.

The lawsuit accused Mountain Valley of creating a nuisance, damaging property that it had not acquired through eminent domain and trespassing by virtue of the soil, water and mud that it allowed to invade its neighbors’ land.

Total damages exceeded $9,000 and were likely to increase with future rains, according to documents filed at the time by Isak Howell, an attorney for the nonprofit law firm of Appalachian Mountain Advocates.

Mountain Valley spokeswoman Natalie Cox declined to comment Monday, saying the settlement was confidential. Howell also declined to comment.

What happened on Cahas Mountain Road — which was closed for a day while bulldozers removed the mud from the rural highway — was one of the more publicly visible examples of environmental damage caused by building a massive pipeline on the steep slopes of Southwest Virginia.

In the days before the rainfall started, regulators received calls from citizens who were concerned that heavy equipment being used to remove downed trees and clear a 125-foot-wide swath for the buried pipeline was exposing the land to potential runoff problems.

After the storm, Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality ordered that construction in the area be halted until proper erosion control measures were established. Although work was allowed to resume several days later, DEQ later cited Mountain Valley for hundreds of other infractions along the pipeline’s 107-mile route through six Virginia counties.

About $2.5 million in fines have been imposed by DEQ and its counterpart in West Virginia, where the natural gas pipeline starts.

Mountain Valley has acknowledged problems early in construction that were caused by record rainfalls, but says improvements have since been made to its erosion and sediment control measures.

Inspections in Virginia have found no violations of state regulations for much of this year, DEQ has said in regular updates to the State Water Control Board.

Although lawsuits by environmental groups have delayed the completion of Mountain Valley by more than three years and pushed its total price upwards to $6.2 billon, the joint venture of energy companies building the pipeline says it is close to completion.

A permit that would allow the pipeline to cross the remaining streams and wetlands in its path is under consideration by state and federal regulators. The approval must be granted before Mountain Valley can meet its goal of finishing the project next summer and beginning to transport about 2 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas to markets along the East Coast.

The lawsuit against Mountain Valley was settled in late September, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court in Roanoke. Judge Elizabeth Dillon gave the parties 30 days before the case’s dismissal becomes final.

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Laurence Hammack covers environmental issues, including the Mountain Valley Pipeline, and business and enterprise stories. He has been a reporter for The Roanoke Times for more than three decades.

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