RICHMOND, Va. — Dominion Power is firing back at opponents by shooting down what it calls “myths” over the utility’s proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

A hot-button issue is the potential use of eminent domain to seize private property along the natural gas pipeline’s projected 550-mile route across the state.

Rural groups in Augusta and neighboring Central Virginia counties say the $5 billion venture will disrupt farms and destroy livelihoods by taking agricultural lands.

Dominion says critics are putting the cart before the horse.

Chet Wade, vice president for communications at the state’s largest power provider, forecasts a lengthy process involving public meetings, court reviews and ultimately a ruling by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

“Seeking authorization for eminent domain can come only after the project has been shown to be in the public interest,” according to a Dominion briefing paper. “In this case, the review is expected to take two years and will include multiple opportunities for public participation.”

Dominion, which operates numerous pipelines, said a route running from West Virginia to Chesapeake and North Carolina can be accommodated.

“We have avoided the need for eminent domain 95 percent of the time,” Wade said of previous projects. “We do not want to go to eminent domain. If we do, there are accommodations, including easement payments, if crops cannot be grown for a year.”

Under Virginia’s 2004 Wagner Act, a public utility can take property through eminent domain if needed land can’t be acquired in any other manner.

Dominion says nearly 70 percent of landowners affected by the Atlantic Gas Pipeline have signed certified letters from the utility requesting permission to survey their property.

But Bonner Cohen, senior policy adviser for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow, said the letters do not contain the option of denying permission.

“Many landowners believe they have no choice but to sign,” Cohen wrote in a new article titled,“Yes to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline; No to Eminent Domain.”