Residents weigh in on pipeline
Draft study says ACP will have ‘less than significant’ adverse impacts
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 email@example.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 722-5155.