Res­i­dents weigh in on pipe­line

Draft study says ACP will have ‘less than sig­nif­i­cant’ ad­verse im­pacts

The Progress-Index Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - By Michael Buet­tner Staff Writer

AL­BERTA – Res­i­dents, busi­ness peo­ple and gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials got a last chance to have their say about a mas­sive nat­u­ral gas project at a meet­ing in this small Brunswick County town last week, and the deeply di­vided opin­ions about the plan seen in other lo­ca­tions were also on dis­play here.

About 80 peo­ple at­tended a pub­lic com­ment ses­sion held by the state Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Qual­ity (DEQ) on Aug. 14 at South­side Vir­ginia Com­mu­nity College con­cern­ing the pro­posed $5 bil­lion, 333-mile At­lantic Coast Pipe­line (ACP) project. Backed by Do­min­ion En­ergy, North Carolina-based Duke En­ergy and At­lanta-based South­ern Co., the pipe­line’s pro­posed route in­cludes a short stretch through the west­ern­most end of Din­wid­die County.

The plan has been mov­ing through the reg­u­la­tory pipe­line since 2015. Over­all au­thor­ity to de­cide its fate rests with the Fed­eral En­ergy Reg­u­la­tory Com­mis­sion (FERC), which will con­tinue to ac­cept pub­lic com­ments through Tues­day, Aug. 22, and will an­nounce its fi­nal de­ci­sion some­time after that.

The speak­ers at the Al­berta meet­ing fol­lowed a pat­tern set at pre­vi­ous com­mu­nity meet­ings held in ar­eas that will be af­fected by the project: strong sup­port or firm op­po­si­tion.

The op­po­si­tion to the project comes from a broad coali­tion of en­vi­ron­men­tal groups, com­mu­nity ac­tivists and prop­erty rights ad­vo­cates, while sup­port­ers in­clude busi­nesses and in­di­vid­u­als in the con­struc­tion in­dus­try (in­clud­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tives from com­pa­nies that are con­tract­ing on the project), eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment of­fi­cials and lo­cal gov­ern­ments.

Den­nis Mor­ris, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Peters­burg­based Crater Plan­ning Dis­trict Com­mis­sion, ex­pressed what most pipe­line sup­port­ers at the meet­ing were say­ing. He told the DEQ rep­re­sen­ta­tives that the com­mis­sion voted in Novem­ber 2015 to sup­port con­struc­tion of the pipe­line. “The At­lantic

Coast Pipe­line will pro­vide much-needed en­ergy sup­ply ... to employers in our re­gion” and “will al­low busi­nesses to ex­pand,” cre­at­ing more jobs in the re­gion.

The project’s back­ers, Mor­ris said, “took un­prece­dented steps” to en­sure that the project will not harm the en­vi­ron­ment.

Sim­i­larly, Alexa Stone, an en­vi­ron­men­tal con­sul­tant from Jar­ratt, ar­gued that “This project is crit­i­cal to Vir­ginia and its fu­ture growth.”

On the en­vi­ron­men­tal side, Stone said, the project’s back­ers “have been held to the high­est stan­dards out there.”

Project op­po­nents also sounded sim­i­lar notes.

“The beau­ti­ful, pris­tine, cel­e­brated beauty of Vir­ginia should not be sac­ri­ficed to cor­po­rate profit,” said Jes­sica Sims, a Mid­loth­ian res­i­dent.

And Bar­bara Adams of Rich­mond warned that the pipe­line would have “dis­as­trous reper­cus­sions ... all for cor­po­rate profit.”

En­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns have fo­cused on the pipe­line’s route from Penn­syl­va­nia through West Vir­ginia and Vir­ginia to North Carolina, across the Ap­palachian and Blue Ridge moun­tains and hun­dreds of wa­ter­ways and other sen­si­tive en­vi­ron­ments, in­clud­ing two na­tional forests.

Along the way, the pipe­line “may af­fect” and is “likely to ad­versely af­fect” seven fed­er­ally listed en­dan­gered species, ac­cord­ing to FERC’s draft Fi­nal En­vi­ron­men­tal Im­pact State­ment, while the pipe­line’s per­ma­nently cleared right of way through forest lands and across the Ap­palachian Trail “would re­sult in a long-term to per­ma­nent im­pact.”

The pres­ence of karst for­ma­tions – lay­ers of wa­ter-sol­u­ble min­er­als, mainly lime­stone, that are sus­cep­ti­ble to cave for­ma­tion, such as the fa­mous cav­erns in the Shenan­doah – raises a risk that sink­holes could form and rup­ture the pipe­line.

And where the route climbs steep slopes, ero­sion and land­slides will be a risk.

How­ever, FERC’s draft ar­gues that the com­pa­nies’ plans in­clude ad­e­quate mea­sures to mit­i­gate these risks as well as the dam­age to wet­lands and scenic vis­tas that con­struc­tion and oper­a­tion of the pipe­line will cause.

The agency con­cludes: “[C]on­struc­tion and oper­a­tion of [the pipe­line and sup­port struc­tures] would re­sult in tem­po­rary and per­ma­nent im­pacts on the en­vi­ron­ment. We also con­clude that the projects would re­sult in some ad­verse ef­fects, but with At­lantic’s and [Do­min­ion En­ergy Transmission]’s im­ple­men­ta­tion of their re­spec­tive im­pact avoid­ance, min­i­miza­tion, and mit­i­ga­tion mea­sures as well as their ad­her­ence to our rec­om­men­da­tions to fur­ther avoid, min­i­mize, and mit­i­gate these im­pacts, most project ef­fects would be re­duced to less-thansignif­i­cant lev­els.”

As for the eco­nomic im­pact, the re­port notes, “During con­struc­tion, ACP ... would ben­e­fit the state and lo­cal economies by cre­at­ing a short-term stim­u­lus to the af­fected ar­eas through pay­roll ex­pen­di­tures, lo­cal pur­chases of con­sum­ables and project-spe­cific ma­te­ri­als, and sales tax. Oper­a­tion of the projects would re­sult in long-term tax ben­e­fits for the coun­ties crossed.”

The draft state­ment doesn’t com­ment on the po­ten­tial for long-term job-cre­ation or busi­ness ex­pan­sion in the lo­cal­i­ties along the pipe­line route. It’s un­clear how much new in­dus­try the project might fuel; of the pipe­line’s ca­pac­ity of 1.5 bil­lion cu­bic feet per day of nat­u­ral gas, 1.44 bil­lion, or 96 per­cent, is al­ready un­der con­tract for de­liv­ery to elec­tri­cal gen­er­at­ing plants owned by Do­min­ion, Duke, South­ern and another North Carolina-based util­ity, PSNC En­ergy.

DEQ is ac­cept­ing pub­lic com­ment on the ACP un­til 11:59 p.m. on Tues­day, Aug. 22. Com­ments can be emailed to com­men­tacp@deq.vir­ginia.gov.

The 865-page draft Fi­nal En­vi­ron­men­tal Im­pact State­ment and its 17 ap­pendixes are avail­able on­line at www.deq. vir­ginia.gov/Pro­grams/ Wa­ter/Pro­tec­tionRe­quire­ments­forPipelines. aspx — Michael Buet­tner may be reached at mbuet­tner@pro­gressin­dex.com or 722-5155.

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