MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- A judge has thrown out a Pennsylvania gas company's lawsuit against the Doddridge County Commission, saying he has no jurisdiction to hear the fight over a flood plain ordinance that he's determined is partially unconstitutional.
Pittsburgh-based EQT sued the north-central West Virginia county in May for revoking a flood plain permit after the company had spent $300,000 on the permitting process. The county acted after its flood plain manager realized homes and livestock would be vulnerable if 20,000 cubic yards of earth were moved in to build a well pad.
EQT asked Doddridge Circuit Judge Timothy Sweeney to issue an injunction on the permit revocation so it could proceed with plans for 12 wells. Sweeney denied that and EQT's motion for summary judgment in a ruling filed with the circuit clerk earlier this week.
Sweeney also declared the county's ordinance "constitutionally defective" under the West Virginia Constitution because it fails to give nearby property and mineral rights owners the right to due process -- in this case, notification of proposed development and the right to be heard.
Without that, Sweeney ruled, EQT is not entitled to an injunction. And regardless of whether EQT complied with the ordinance, Sweeney wrote, "it has no clear right to the permit."
The ordinance does, however, support "a legitimate public interest and is an appropriate exercise of governmental authority and power," the judge said.
EQT spokeswoman Linda Robertson said that, given the wording of the ruling, "it's possible we wouldn't need to obtain a flood plain permit."
"However, we're still looking at the judge's order, what options we may have and what other obstacles may exist before we decide on anything," she said. "The Doddridge County Commission is already at work on a new ordinance, so we're likely to want to see that, as well, before moving forward."
None of the county commissioners returned messages Thursday.
EQT had argued that the county and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection granted permits, so the flood plain manager had no authority to revoke them. However, Joye Huff, a landowner who was allowed to intervene in the lawsuit, said that when the Federal Emergency Management Agency pointed out the potential problems, the manager had no choice but to withdraw the permit.