Our Opinion: Pipeline planners must come clean on local benefits

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The Atlantic Coast Pipeline could be pumping pressurized natural gas through Wilson County in as little as 2 ½ years, but residents along the pipeline’s path are already feeling a blast of hot air.

Dominion Power and Duke Energy officials have bloviated about supposed benefits to landowners and county residents, but their words have proven to be empty promises. Residents of the Rock Ridge community rightfully feel betrayed.

County Commissioner Rob Boyette spoke out for those residents this week, reading a prepared statement during Monday’s meeting that expressed concern about inaccurate information pipeline planners have disseminated and set the record straight.

Atlantic Coast Pipeline officials said Wilson County will have a tap to divert gas from the pipeline for local use. There’s just one little problem — there are no natural gas lines along the pipeline’s Rock Ridge route.

“Statements made by government officials, pipeline owners and their marketing agents that the pipeline will spread natural gas throughout our county and region are not true,” Boyette said. “In western Wilson County, no infrastructure is in place to distribute gas. Furthermore, no funding is available for such distribution, and no private or public utility has existing plans to create distribution in this area.”

Residents in the pipeline’s path are more likely to look favorably on requests to purchase or lease their land if they believe the project will benefit the community by offering an abundance of natural gas and potentially even reducing consumer costs for the resource.

Barbara Exum told county commissioners this week that some of her neighbors believed they’d have direct access to natural gas from the ACP.

That misinformation might influence landowners’ decision to grant permanent easements for the pipeline or decide not to cooperate, which is likely to lead officials to take their land through eminent domain. The Times supports private property rights and opposes the use of eminent domain.

We should all be concerned that misleading information from folks who are supposed to know chapter and verse of the pipeline plans could be shaping public opinion. Residents must be able to make up their minds on the basis of facts, not fabrication.

This isn’t the first time pipeline planners have come up short in the disclosure department. In May 2015, we wrote in this space that Dominion spokespeople were failing to give property owners the information they needed to make informed decisions. In two years, little seems to have changed.

Boyette said ACP planners must provide more “transparency and truth” to western Wilson County homeowners.

“I believe that rural citizens in our county deserve the same quality protection as any other residents,” he said. “Safety and security for our citizens must not be compromised for the sake of producing a cheaper line.”

We agree, and we applaud Commissioner Boyette for standing up for his constituents.

If the pipeline is just passing through with no material benefit to Wilson County, that must be made clear. If there are benefits to the community at large and landowners in particular, we need an honest and accurate accounting of what they are.