Roanoke County landowner shocked to find unannounced surveyors on her property

ROANOKE COUNTY (WSLS 10) - We're hearing from a woman in Roanoke County who says without her knowledge or consent, she came home Monday to find dozens of surveyors for the Mountain Valley Pipeline on her property.

Theresa Terry had the police escort crews off her property on Bent Mountain.

Now she and police are expressing their frustration with a law that doesn't make it clear who is at fault.

The problem is that, as long as a public utility gives sufficient notice 15 days in advance, code section 56-49.01 says the utility can come on the property without trespassing, but there's a debate in the courts about whether the landowner can still tell the utility to leave.

There's also a debate whether the Mountain Valley Pipeline is a public utility at all, and at the middle of it all are the landowners.

Theresa Terry's house is tucked back in a picturesque landscape on top of Bent Mountain in Roanoke County.

"Most people don't look forward to driving home every day. I look forward to driving home every day," said Terry.

When she drove home Monday, the scene shocked her.

Around 30 surveyors were there, that her husband had specifically told not to come.

"He sent them registered mail back saying those dates would not work for him, and left his, put his phone number on it, said call me and we'll work something out, and he never got a call and they just showed up on the 10th," said Terry.

They were digging up her property, taking samples.

Terry did the first thing she could think of and called police.

"When the cops got there I was introduced as the property owner and they would not call the people off the property," said Terry.

It took more than three hours for crews to finally leave.

Speaking Tuesday to the Board of Supervisors, Chief Howard Hall said that wasn't how it should have happened.

"There was a little bit of confusion because of the way that the first call had been handled. Ultimately we were able to get the survey crew on that property to leave, but they had been there a while before that occurred," said Hall.

The "first call" was another property on Bent Mountain that police had predetermined the surveyors had the authority to go on.

Hall says it was difficult for his officers to enforce.

"This law puts us in a very bad position," said Hall.

Attorneys WSLS spoke with say that "bad position" is determining who is "surveying" legally and who is trespassing.

"They don't want people just showing up, unannounced on their property, and so property owners have a very legitimate reason to expect very strict compliance with these code provisions," said attorney Joseph Waldo, with the law firm Waldo & Lyle, PC.

Other attorneys say the law may not even apply to the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

"There are a huge number of Virginians. Huge number, that feel these pipelines are not in the public interest, they're for private gain," said Charles Lollar, with Lollar Law.

That distinction will ultimately be decided in court.

As for Terry, she says the surveyor now knows her stance.

"I told him no, that he was not coming up here and destroying this piece of heaven," said Terry.

WSLS did reach out to Mountain Valley's parent company EQT out of Pennsylvania, but didn't get a response.

The two attorneys WSLS spoke with say a Supreme Court case, deciding whether Virginia Statute 56-49.01 is even constitutional, should be heard next spring.