Reaction mixed to proposed natural gas pipeline

Published 11:33 am Saturday, September 6, 2014

NEWSOMS—As previously announced, four major energy companies on Tuesday declared plans to build a natural gas pipeline that would go from West Virginia to North Carolina, and part of that line would be in the southern part of Southampton County. Although an open house to receive comments and questions is scheduled for later this month, this reporter and Managing Editor Cain Madden went looking early for people whose property could be affected.

We were interested to hear what some of those residents are thinking so far.

C. Harrell Turner of Waller Road in Branchville said he’s received a letter asking for rights to survey on his land, but hasn’t yet replied. Turner added that he made calls for his questions, but didn’t get “succinct” answers.

“I’m looking forward to the information session,” he said, referring to the open house scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 25.

Barbara Vickler of Meherrin Road said she had allowed surveyors on her property, and is “OK with it.”

On the same road, a man who did not want to be identified said the surveyors had been on his property a few weeks ago. He colorfully added that it was also OK with him because Dominion was going to do whatever it wanted anyway.

Virginia Story, who lives with her mother on Cypress Bridge Road, said surveyors have already been on their property, and pointed out sticks with orange ribbon marking where they were looking.

When the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, as it is called, will be built, whether it will affect planting and how the Storys might be compensated are among the questions they have about the pipeline.

“We are concerned about it,” she said.

Someone else who’s also concerned is Hunter Darden III of Rosemont Road. He’s also a little disappointed and dissatisfied.

Darden said he received a letter asking him to allow surveyors on his property.

“I signed it saying they only had permission if they notified me 24 hours in advance to unlock the gate. They went on anyway,” he said. “After I made a phone call, then they notified me the next three or four times. I feel like they took a little bit of advantage of my being cooperative.”

In addition, the surveyors left their mark and not just by the ribboned markers.

Darden said he found trash — such as water bottles — where the surveyors had been, and evidence that they drove where they weren’t supposed to be. Further, he found they left different colored ribbons used for directions and purposes other than surveying.

“Plastic doesn’t rot. They should have taken those down,” Darden said. “I don’t think that was very, very professional.”

And just because he offered permission to survey, doesn’t mean he likes the project.

“I feel like I’m contributing to something that’s not going to benefit the county,” Darden said. “I haven’t agreed to anything. I’m not in favor of it.”

He also isn’t satisfied by whatever replies he’s gotten to his calls. For example, nobody can tell him the width and depth of where the pipe would be laid. Also, Darden’s given to understand that apparently he wouldn’t be allowed to drive over places where the line is buried. That’s going to be difficult, if not impossible to comply with considering dumping and logging trucks would also be passing over an area where there would be pipe.

“They didn’t have answers. They won’t give enough information,” he said, adding that the companies should have asked for people’s concerns about the project.

“I would feel a little more obligated on my part to give this [land] up for the county. But our county’s not benefitting,” Darden said. “But I’m not losing sleep over it.”

In answer to some of these concerns, Jim Norvelle, director of communications for Dominion Energy, the natural gas subsidiary of Dominion Resources, first reiterated an observation from Wednesday: That of the 107 tracts or parcels in Southampton County, about 76 percent of those owners gave their OK to be surveyed.

He added that the natural gas pipeline in the county would be 20 inches in diameter and buried a total of about 6 to 8 feet deep — 1 foot of soil under the pipe and 3-5 feet of soil on top. Further, the right of way for a 20-inch pipeline would be 75 feet during construction and 50 feet permanent after construction.

Norvelle said that people can grow crops and raise livestock on the right of way.

“If you need to drive that’s certainly possible,” he said. “We prohibit permanent buildings and structures like swimming pools.”

As for how the county would benefit, Norvelle said, “We’re trying to determine that possibility. We think that’s going to be possibility. About 92 percent of the capacity of this transmission line from beginning to end is already subscribed. We already have members of the joint venture — Duke, Piedmont and AGL. Eight percent of the capacity has not yet been subscribed. We are planning to do an open season for that last 8 percent to see who else would be interested in using the pipeline to get natural gas, such as an industry [that uses natural gas] or another local gas company.”

But an individual homeowner could not tap into the line.

“Too high a pressure,” he said.

Amanda Jarratt, president and chief executive officer of the Franklin-Southampton Economic Development Inc., said, “I think it’s an excellent opportunity, and that Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe said it best when he said it was a game-changer for Virginia.

“Natural gas capacity has been an issue for large-scale industrial projects in this portion of Virginia. With the partnership of these large utilities, I’m hopeful that it will solve these problems. We receive several briefings from Dominion, and we look forward to future conversations as the project develops.”

The open house in this area will be on Thursday, Sept. 25, in the Regional Workforce Development Center at Paul D. Camp Community College, 100 N. College Drive, Franklin. The session will be in two parts; from 5 to 6:30 p.m., landowners within the proposed study corridor; from 6:30 to 8 p.m., landowners and the public.

The Board of Supervisors will also be briefed during its meeting on Monday, Sept. 22, which begins at 7 p.m.