Atlantic Coast Pipeline inched closer in 2017

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Though experiencing delays and some opposition, 2017 saw developers of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline overcome major hurdles toward implementing the $5 billion project.

Dominion Energy and Duke Energy are the primary backers of the effort to construct a 600-mile pipeline to transport natural gas from West Virginia through Virginia to North Carolina. Some 12 miles of the 36-inch high pressure pipeline could be built in western Wilson County.

Here is a list of major events in the ACP time line through the course of the year.

• Jan. 17: Opposition groups raise concerns about the Federal Regulatory Commission’s Dec. 30, 2016, release of a 2,376-page draft environmental impact statement on the project. “The ACP would be a lose-lose proposition for communities and utility ratepayers,” Nash Stop the Pipeline President Marvin Winstead said in a news release. “It’s an orchestrated effort to engineer profits for the pipeline companies, with all of the risk for billions of dollars of debt falling on the ratepayers.”

• Feb. 9: The ACP picked up support of Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis and four members of the U.S. congressional delegation including Republican Rep. George Holding, of the 2nd District, which includes western Wilson County.

• Feb. 13: The FERC holds a public comment session at Forest Hills Middle School in Wilson. More than 40 Wilson County residents turn out to speak or make written comments. Some bring signs expressing opposition. Duke Energy, which has a 40 percent investment in the pipeline, says the project will provide an economic lift for North Carolina. Union representatives in attendance say construction will bring good-paying jobs to the area. It is one of 10 public comment sessions scheduled for the project area.

• Feb. 20: Celena Bunn-Bissette, whose property is along the pipeline’s path in the Rock Ridge community, writes a letter to The Wilson Times warning Wilson County residents of the pipeline’s dangers and encouraging them to visit website www.nopipeline.net and a new Facebook page for the opposition group “Wilson County No Pipeline.”

• Feb. 22: The ACP receives an endorsement from the North Carolina Economic Development Association citing “significant benefits for our state’s consumers,utilities, industries and continued economic growth and development.”

• March 6: Wilson County Commissioner Rob Boyette tells residents who live in the ACP’s path that they will not be able to access natural gas directly from the pipeline because there is insufficient infrastructure in place to distribute it.

• March 10: Protesters in “The Walk to Protect Our People and the Places We Live” along the proposed path arrive in Wilson County to give speeches and meet with 50 project opponents at Buckhorn United Methodist Church. “Some of this land has been in families for hundreds of years,” said David Hinnant. “And now somebody else is going to tell us what we can and cannot do with it?”

• April 4: Some 16 prominent legislators in North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia sent a letter to the FERC in support of the project. Cited were the potential to boost the economy, improvements in infrastructure, added jobs and potential tax revenues. In North Carolina, signers were House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland; Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, R-Rockingham; House Majority Leader John R. Bell, R-Wayne; Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue, D-Wake; and Rep. Ken Goodman, D-Richmond, chairman of the Main Street Democrats.

• April 6: The FERC ends the comment period on the ACP draft environmental impact statement. Impacted residents and landowners complained that more than 1,000 pages of supplemental documents had been submitted to the FERC a month after the release of the draft statement. Opponent Marvin Winstead said that comments received by the FERC were on a document that was already out of date.

• May 3: ACP officials briefed Wilson County’s Local Emergency Planning Committee on the proposed construction schedule, related safety plans protocols and emergency responder coordinators.

• May 12: FERC Secretary Kimberly Bose announced a revised schedule for completion of the final environmental impact statement for the ACP. The release was pushed from June 30 to July 21 in response to comments on the draft environmental impact statement. The FERC said more than 37,000 comments had been received.

• June 20: The Southern Environmental Law Center filed a motion asking the FERC to hold a hearing for developers to justify the need for the ACP. The center said the pipeline is unnecessary. The same day, the EnergySure Coalition countered, saying the ACP “is designed to make our region energy-sure by connecting us to an abundant supply of affordable, clearer-burning natural gas. With the ACP, we will also benefit from cleaner air, lower energy demand and job creation.”

• July 20: Four out of five speakers at a public hearing on water quality spoke in opposition to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline at a forum hosted by the N.C. Division of Water Resources at Nash Community College. Of the 56 people who came to speak, only 11 voiced support for the project. The comments were received as part of the state agency’s consideration of a 401 Water Quality Certification and Buffer Authorization needed by the project to proceed.

• July 21: The FERC releases the final environmental impact statement on the ACP. The step is lauded by Dominion Energy. “Drawing on more than 150,000 pages of regulatory filings and more than 75,000 public comments, FERC’s report comprehensively addresses all of the environmental and safety issues that have been raised. By any measure, this has been a rigorous and transparent process. It has provided extensive opportunities for public review and participation, and it has left no stone unturned,” said Leslie Hartz, of Dominion. The Southern Environmental Law Center said the FERC “shirks its responsibility to public interest.”

• Aug. 15: The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality holds an adjunct listening session to hear those unable to speak at a June 20 session. Each of the 21 people to step forward voiced opposition to the project.

• Aug. 24: The Southern Environmental Law Center called for the FERC to undertake a new environmental impact statement for the ACP after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit vacated the FERC’s approval of three pipeline segments in the Southeast Market Pipeline Project in Alabama, Georgia and Florida.

• Aug. 23: Developers of the ACP announced in intent to establish pollinator habitats along from 50 miles of the proposed natural gas pipelines route. Native grasses and wildflowers would be planned along the route to attract the pollinators.

• Sept. 14: The N.C. Division of Water Resources announced that it was delaying a decision on the application by the Atlantic Coast Pipeline for an individual water quality certification and buffer authorization. A decision had been expected Sept. 18. The ACP developer was asked to provide additional information and clarification. The state had received 9,000 comments on the project, with most being in opposition.

• Sept. 25: Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis send a letter to the FERC requesting that the commission “complete its review and issue and order approving the ACP at the earliest opportunity if all impact and avoidance and mitigation efforts are found satisfactory.”

• Sept. 26: The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Energy, Mineral and Land Resources sends a letter of disapproval to the ACP developers’ erosion and sedimentation control plan. The letter cites 17 reason for the initial disapproval and asks for more information. A spokesman for the ACP said it would provide additional information requested.

• Oct. 7: Clean Water North Carolina holds an open forum at Wilson Community College on the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality’s pending decision on whether to issue a certificate allowing the pipeline project to proceed.

• Oct. 13: The FERC issues a 151-page statement and a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity permitting construction of the ACP. The commission’s decision was not unanimous. Two of the three FERC commissioners voted in favor. Commissioner Cheryl A. LaFleur, who voted against the ACP, wrote a five-page letter saying, in part, that the project was not in the public interest and there may be alternative approaches that may provide “significant environmental advantages over their construction as proposed.”

• Oct. 17: The Wilson County Board of Commissioners unanimously passes a resolution calling on developers of the ACP to be more transparent in their dealings with property owners and local government in regards to development and safety issues.

• Oct. 22: The Associated Press reports that Dominion Energy has a plan to extend the Atlantic Coast Pipeline beyond North Carolina and into South Carolina. The report was generated from a recording of a Dominion official. Information provided to the public up to that point had no mention of any plans to extend the pipeline beyond Robeson County.

• Nov. 15: Pipeline opponent NCWARN leads an alliance of 21 local and state groups in an appeal process asking the FERC to suspend its approval of he ACP’s Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity.

• Nov. 17: The ACP project is granted approval by the U.S. Forest Service to construct 21 miles of its pipeline through the George Washington National Forest in Virginia and the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia, a major hurdle in the regulatory process.

• Nov. 27: Led By the group Bold Alliance, property owners in Wilson and Nash counties join 95 others in Virginia, North Carolina and West Virginia in a federal lawsuit claiming the FERC certificates to the ACP are in violation of the Natural Gas Act and the U.S. Constitution.

• Nov. 28: The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality makes a fourth request for additional information from ACP developers before it can make a decision on the requested Individual Water Quality Certification and buffer authorization needed for the project to proceed.

• Dec.4: The N.C. Division of Air Quality requests more information on benzene emissions from the project’s Northampton Compressor Station application.

• Dec. 5: An analysis of economics and manufacturing jobs potential for the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline prepared by the Natural Resources Defense Council found that the project could result in higher cost to energy customers, that demand for natural gas will not be as high as once forecast and no clear support for the claim that the project will lead to more manufacturing opportunities. The report used Dominion Transmission and Duke Energy’s own projections.