Dispute between Smith Mountain Lake landowners and Appalachian Power continues
Whole issue is over land rights for property owners
David Kaplan, dkaplan@wdbj7.com
POSTED: 09:49 PM EST Dec 04, 2014 UPDATED: 08:11 AM EST Dec 05, 2014

FRANKLIN CO., Va. -  Franklin County residents along Smith Mountain Lake say Appalachian Power is overstepping its boundaries.

The dispute revolves around the power company's Shoreline Management Plan.

Some neighbors in Franklin and Bedford County say it goes too far, and the power company is infringing on their property rights.

An Appalachian Power spokesman says the company has few issues with most people who want to do construction along its shores, and that they try to work with property owners looking to build.

But now they are taking legal action against one man trying to build a dock on his own property, and it's igniting a fiery response.

Bill Nissen wanted to build a dock on his property. He got a building permit through Franklin County, and started construction.

"They actually just showed up at my door while I was in the shower. My wife answered the door. The front door was open and  a stranger just appeared with two inches of paperwork for each of us," Nissen said.

Appalachian Power told Nissen to stop building because he didn't get approval from them first.

Since 1960, Appalachian Power has had a five-foot easement around the entire lake to help them manage it, since it's a power source they own.

Neighbors and the power company say ever since this new shoreline management plan was developed, the power company has asked homeowners to help them comply. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, has mandated that they come up with this shoreline plan for environmental and public access reasons, among others.

The power company says it can do that, in part, because of the five-foot easement.

Homeowners say the easement doesn't give them that power, and the power company can't tell them what to do on their own property.

"If I build a house, I go to the county to get a building permit. There's not a private company. I don't go to a private company to file an application to build a house. It's the same issue," Nissen says.

Thursday night's meeting was intended urge homeowners to look at the deeds of their property and not sign over any rights to Appalachian Power.

Local realtor Rob Gerner echoed these concerns during a public comment section.

"Everybody else in this room has a right to build a dock and APCO, or AEP, has nothing to say about it. You look at your deed, read it," Gerner said, "This is property rights. This is something they're coming in and taking value from you costing people thousands, some people hundreds of thousands, because they pulled some rule out of the air."

Right now, a federal judge is going to decide whether or not to hear or dismiss the case.

The homeowners believe it will be dismissed, since land-rights issues are typically adjudicated at the state level.

If that happens, the homeowners will then file a lawsuit in state court, hope it's heard, and hope a final decision is made on whether or not Appalachian Power truly has the right to enforce their management plan in this way.

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