Atlantic Coast Pipeline opponents give regulators an earful

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Attendees were unanimous in their opposition to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline at a listening session hosted by the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality last week in Rocky Mount.

Each of the 21 people who stepped forward to speak Tuesday evening urged officials not to approve state permits for the project to transport natural gas through 186 miles of 36-inch high-power transmission pipeline in eight North Carolina counties.

The $5.5 billion project, which would transport fracked gas 600 miles from West Virginia through Virginia to North Carolina, is proposed by Dominion Resources and Duke Energy. Some 12 miles of the route runs across the western parts of Wilson County.

The N.C. Department of Water Resources is currently considering an application for a water quality certification and buffer authorization from ACP developers. Approval of the permit will be required for the project to advance. On July 21, the ACP overcame an important hurdle when the final draft of the environmental impact statement was released by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

More than 70 people attended the listening session at Nash Community College. At a July 20 public hearing to hear comments on the application, four out of five speakers opposed the project. Some 56 people spoke at that meeting; others were not permitted to speak due to time limitations.

Listening to comments Tuesday were five key officials including Jay Zimmerman, of the N.C. Division of Water Resources; Mary Peny Kelly and Bill Denton, both of the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality; Ramona Bartos, of the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources; and Napoleon Wallace, of the N.C. Department of Commerce.

S.A. Glover of Wilson, owner of a family farm in Wilson County, urged officials to terminate all further development of the ACP.

“The proposed pipeline poses an unnecessary and intolerable risk to farms, families and communities in and around its proposed path,” Glover said in prepared remarks.

Glover cited Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration statistics that indicate 11,460 substantial pipeline incidents from 1997 to 2016 that were responsible for 324 deaths, 1,333 injuries and more than $7 billion in personal injury, property and watershed damage.

“What that says is, if you build a pipeline, an incident will happen,” Glover said.

“Most noteworthy in this regard is more risk of contamination from pipeline accidents of failure to the major freshwater reservoirs of Toisnot Lake, Wiggins Mill and Lake Wilson, plus the massive underground county well water system just down stream from the proposed pipeline and construction site,” Glover said. “These infrastructures supply fresh water to my community of more than 80,000 people, including our public schools and the privately owned freshwater wells sustaining farms and families in Wilson County. The risk posed to our freshwater supply is unacceptable.”

Kim Koo, a retired neurosurgeon from Rocky Mount, made four quick points and did not use up the three minute time limit alloted speakers.

“Once again, profits rule over your humanity. Too long have large corporations and some governmental officials decided the fate of ordinary citizens without our consent,” Koo said. “Being elected to a position does not give one a free right to enact self-serving interests at our expense. What is even more egregious to me is the attempt to make us pay through the proposed 15 percent rate hike that Duke was asking for something that we do not want, which is the pipeline, or something that we did not cause, which is the coal ash spill.”

John Huffman, a medical oncologist in Rocky Mount, said when a cost-benefit analysis is done on this project, “the cost is eternal, unprecedented and enormous.”

“This is a not natural gas pipeline. These are in perpetuity easements granted to Duke, Dominion and whoever they may pass those on to in the future to pump natural gas or whatever substance they choose to be appropriate,” Huffman said. “We’re talking 1 ½ billion cubic feet per day running at 1,400 pounds per square inch. That’s not your 8-inch, 60-pound natural pipeline in the road down the street. This is an unprecedented project in this state. Oil Change International estimates 68 million metric tons per year of emissions and leakage from this project. That’s the equivalent of 20 coal plants, 14 million cars — enormous, unprecedented and eternal in perpetuity.

“Duke and Dominion are going to have 730 billion cubic feet per year of unused natural gas to play with,” Huffman said. “Russia, the largest natural gas exporter in the world, exports 693 billion cubic feet.”

Barbara Exum, a resident of Wilson County whose farm near the Buckhorn Reservoir is in the direct path of the pipeline, repeated similar concerns as she expressed in the July 20 public hearing including risk to freshwater contamination, disproportionate affects on communities of color and her opinion that the pipeline wasn’t needed.

Orpho Watson, who was born and raised in Nash County, said he had farmed there all his life.

Watson said when he first heard of the pipeline, he didn’t have an opinion either way.

“The more I have learned, my views have changed. I have been dealing with the land agent since 2015. In March of this year, they tell me that they have got a valve site on one of our farms and an anode field on another, and it’s the first time they’ve told me about it, so I know what I’m dealing with with them. They are not telling me the truth. They were on the plans all along, but it took them two years to tell me about it.

“One of these farms that this pipeline is crossing, it’s been farmed by someone in my family since 1754, and they want me to put a price on that land,” Watson said. “I told them I can’t do it. I can’t put a price on it. You can’t pay me enough for it.”

Watson said his daughter and her husband recently built a house, and they moved from the original site because of the pipeline.

“And now my nephew and his wife want to build a house on this farm that we’ve owned for over 200 years. We, now they don’t know if they are going to do it or not, and that’s a shame. That’s a real shame.”

Watson said he told the pipeline developer to move it somewhere else.

“We just don’t want it, but I’ve been told there is nothing they can do about it, but I think there is. You can do something about it,” Watson said.

“I was also told from the very beginning that when it goes across our agricultural fields, it’s going to be at a 4-foot depth. I said ‘Can you put it deeper than that? That concerns me.’ As big as tractors are today, they can get stuck and go down 2 feet and then you’re only 2 feet from the top of the pipeline. I said 6 feet would be better. They said, ‘Yeah, we can do 6 feet.’ Well, this year I was told, ‘No, we can’t put it any deeper.’

“And I also found out that this trench going across my fields could be open anywhere from two to six months. Just think about what that’s going to do. This is personal for me, for our farming operation going across fields for a trench across a field to be open that long. So those are some things I think you should be thinking about.”

The project would cut a 100-foot-wide path through 454 acres of jurisdictional wetlands and cross four major rivers.

Terica Luxton, of Sanford, had little to say but used her time at the microphone to hold up two enlargements of trenches in the ground as pipelines were being installed in another project.

“This is your land. This is your child’s land. Keep that in mind. Don’t let it happen,” Luxton said.

No one rose to speak in favor of the pipeline project at Tuesday’s meeting.