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Norfolk, VA 23510
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Wytheville man still fighting eminent domain, generations later

April 01, 2010

A long-running civil battle goes to court in a couple of weeks in Wytheville.

It's a classic conflict. One man against the government, corporations and utilities.

Edd Jennings took time away from planting locust posts to show us around his 320 acre cattle farm.

Even after a long hard Winter, it's a beautiful spot along the New River.

There's another side to the Jennings Farm.

The high-voltage power line, a 24-inch natural gas pipeline, and Interstate-77.

The Interstate bridge towers over Jennings' home. The 200-year old homestead is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

"One thing you'll notice, we don't have is any noise. Because in the 1966 trial, engineers for the state said that would never be a problem because noise rises," said Jennings as he stood beneath the interstate, vehicles roaring by.

Jennings, his father and grandfather have been fighting V-DOT since the late 1950's when it was known as "the highway department."

The Interstate cut through solid rock when it was first built in the '60's.

Years later Duke Energy used a similar technique to lay the gas line.

Once the pipe was in place, they used water to test the line.

Duke drained the line in Jennings' alfalfa fields.

More than a million gallons of water rushing in at once produced sink holes so deep a drilling company was called in to survey the damage.

When Appalachian Power came through the farm in the 1970's, high tension high-voltage lines were still new. Jennings recalls hearing APCO engineers speculating about the impact on his cattle.

"I wonder if a cow will even walk under it. They didn't know."

Getting back to the highway that runs above the house. That is the subject of the trial coming up.

Jennings says he doesn't know how to put a price on the litter the interstate produces, much less the noise, air pollution and a blot on the scenery.

He still remembers the day when a highway engineer came to allay his mother's safety concerns.

"So while they were standing talking in the yard a refrigerator door fell between them," said Jennings.

V-DOT says "it would be inappropriate to comment on pending litigation."