Linda Parrish, of the Buckhorn community, right, gets posters from activist Janet Smith, of Greenville, left, at a meeting for comments on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline this week.
Drew C. Wilson | Times
Jane Flowers Finch, center, of Raleigh, speaks with a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission staff member at the Atlantic Coast Pipeline draft environmental impact statement public comment session Tuesday night in Wilson.
Drew C. Wilson | Times
By Drew C. Wilson
Times Staff Writer
George Shaw doesn’t mince words when it comes to the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
“It could kill me,” Shaw said. “If you are within a mile of the thing, it could part you.”
Shaw was one of more than 40 Wilson County residents who came out to express concerns at a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission draft environmental impact statement comment session Tuesday at Forest Hills Middle School.
“I can’t say in a few words my feelings about it. They are all negative,” said Shaw. “It’s for big business at the expense of the people who are living in the danger of it.”
A consortium of energy companies plans to build a 600-mile natural gas pipeline through West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina, which would include 12 miles of 36-inch, high-pressure pipeline running through the western side of Wilson County.
RESIDENTS SPEAK OUT
“I don’t like it and I don’t want it to go through,” said James Shaw, another Buckhorn community resident and brother to George Shaw. “I have a farm and it’s going to go right through the middle.”
The Shaw farm is located between N.C. 581 and the Buckhorn Reservoir.
“There are four families as close to the pipeline as I am who haven’t even been notified because the pipeline doesn’t touch their area,” said George Shaw. “I would say that in the community there are a couple of hundred (residents). We’re trying to convince FERC not to approve it.
“I just don’t think it’s safe because there is the possibility of an explosion and for the environment,” said Linda Parrish, of the Buckhorn community. “it seems to be affecting more black people’s property.”
Nearby, in the Rock Ridge community, a 26-acre tract of forest land owned by Celena and Robert Bissette could be bisected by the pipeline.
“We’re really against it,” said Robert Bissette. “We are looking at the environmental impact that it is going to pose. It does cross Contentnea Creek, which is the main water supply for the city of Wilson from Buckhorn Reservoir.”
Bissette said their concern is the danger of having the high-pressure line within 150 feet of their home.
“If there is an event of the failure of this line, it’s pretty much a catastrophic failure,” said Bissette. “So when you are living within 150 feet of it, it’s very concerning as far as your safety.”
Local fire departments may not be able to handle an emergency on the scale of a half-mile explosion and fire, Bissette said.
Residents in the area have formed a group called Wilson County No Pipeline.
“It’s a group of citizens that are concerned about the pipeline,” said Celena Bissette. “We have fliers. We have cards that have an opposition statement that people can sign that maybe don’t want to make a comment, don’t have time to write a comment in opposition.” The group is also part of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League.
The proposed route runs roughly parallel to Interstate 95.
“The land that I farm from Rock Ridge to almost Kenly, that pipeline crosses just about every farm that I farm in that area,” said David Hinnant, whose farm at Buckhorn is also on the proposed route.
Hinnant said the primary proponent of the pipeline, Dominion Power, has not been forthcoming with answers to his questions about the project.
“The people that we are dealing with have not been honest with us about what’s going on,” said Hinnant. “When they first contacted us, we got a letter saying that there was a natural gas pipeline coming through the area and that it might cross your property. If you have any questions, call this toll-free number. I called. My question was ‘Can I access the gas off of this pipeline to use in my business?’ The answer was yes. That was the first question I asked and they told me a lie and they have lied to me ever since.”
Jane Flowers Finch, of Raleigh, said the pipeline could cut through her mother’s farm in Wilson County.
“This is the sixth eminent domain case that she has had since 1975,” Finch said. “We’re fighting the pipeline. I have been to all of the meetings. I’m very much against it.”
Finch said the energy companies have given the false impression that local residents would get taps off of the line that would lower their gas bills.
“I think they used bait and switch in the early meetings right here at this school,” Finch said. “I think the hype for economic development has really been false and misleading. I think that they are bordering on fraud in their representations because they kept saying there was going to be a tap. Well, there is no tap in North Carolina.”
Duke Energy has a 40 percent investment in the pipeline.
“What we see in this area is some really good economic lift,” said Tammie McGee, a Duke Energy communications manager. “The natural gas is also going to have some infusion of economic activity with the construction and the operation, but the real benefit is going to come in attracting new manufacturing and industry to the whole corridor of I-95. As I have talked to local economic developers, they have lost some big companies here because they didn’t have that infrastructure and the natural gas wasn’t readily available at the compression rates they needed.”
According to Dominion Power, the project construction will generate $680 million in economic activity and create 4,426 jobs and more than a million in average annual tax revenue in North Carolina. Once built, Dominion says the pipeline will produce $11.7 million in annual economic activity and 925 jobs.
Terry Langley, of Pipeliners Local 798 out of Tulsa, Oklahoma, part of the United Association of Plumbers, Pipe Fitters and Seam Fitters of America, was at the meeting to support the pipeline.
“We have the welders and then we have the helpers that help the welders and we have the journeymen that lay the pipe. We have all three of the trade crafts there. It’s a big economic boom for the communities,” said Langley. “They are very good-paying jobs. A welder makes $52 and some change in hour.” Langley couldn’t estimate how many locals would be able to get the work during the two years of construction of the pipeline, which could begin in fall of 2017.
Paul McCormick, of Andover, New York, a special pipeline representative for the mid-Atlantic and Northeast for the International Union of Operating Engineers, said if workers have a clean driving history, are physically fit to go to work and have a desire to learn a new trade, they could get high-paying, benefited employment supporting heavy equipment operators including excavators, bulldozers and crane operators and motor graders.
“A lot of the people, possibly local, that don’t have a tremendous amount of experience, they can come out as oilers,” said McCormick. “There’s going to be skid steers. There’s going to be loaders. There are going to be various things that our trade covers. It’s not just a job, it’s a career.”
TIME LEFT TO WEIGH IN
Still, some are generally against the pipeline for other reasons, like John Hinnant, of Wilson. Hinnant taught eighth-grade science at Toisnot Middle School and in Rocky Mount for 31 years and has a master’s in science education and a specialization in geology.
Janet Smith, from Greenville, came to the meeting with 30 signs to pass out to opponents of the project.
“I guess I sort of get obsessed when it comes to environmental issues,” said Smith. “We are stewards of the planet and we are not treating it like we should be treated. We are acting like it’s not even a living thing.”
To comment, send a letter to Kimberly D. Bose, Secretary, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, 888 First Street NE, Room 1A, Washington, DC 20426, Docket Nos. CP15-554-000, CP15-555-000, and CP15-554-001 or go online to www.ferc.gov. The comment period is open through April 6.