LUMBERTON — The decision by the Robeson County Board of Commissioners on Monday to not act on approving a conditional-use permit that would help bring natural gas to the gas-starved regions of North Carolina needs to be changed, according to at least one county commissioner.
David Edge is confident that will happen.
“It will be reviewed and eventually passed,” said Edge, who was not present during the commissioners’ meeting on Monday. “My understanding from the county attorney is that this will be on our agenda at our next meeting.”
That meeting is Aug. 7.
The commissioners voted Monday to delay action on the permit request that would have allowed the placement of a monitoring station and 350-foot-tall microwave cell tower near Pembroke as part of the proposed 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The request was made by Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC, a partnership consisting of subsidiaries of Dominion Resources, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and Southern Company.
Approval is needed for the monitoring station and cell tower to be constructed beside N.C. 710, on 2.6 acres of a 17.608-acre tract owned by Piedmont Natural Gas Company Inc. The monitoring station and cell tower are needed if pipeline construction is to continue.
As proposed, the utilities station would deliver natural gas to the Piedmont, and meter and regulate the flow. The cell tower would monitor control, security and safety of the pipeline.
But after the Rev. Mac Legerton argued to the the board that there has not been enough public input during the pipeline’s planning process, all seven commissioners present voted to delay action on the conditional-use permit until public hearings are held in Robeson County. The pipeline has not yet been approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and Monday’s meeting was only meant to address issues surrounding the monitoring station and cell tower.
The commissioners’ decision shocked pipeline supporters because the same commissioners had passed a resolution supporting the natural gas pipeline.
Edge said his fellow commissioners voted for the delay because of a longstanding gentleman’s agreement that they vote with the commissioner who represents the district in which a proposed project would be located. In the case of the pipeline action it is Noah Woods’ district and it was Woods who made the motion to delay.
“That was wrong,” he said. “It will eventually be corrected.
Bo Biggs, a Lumberton businessman and pipeline supporter, said he is concerned about the so-called “gentleman’s agreement” the commissioners follow.
“From my perspective I understand there are items that affect individual districts, but it kills my heart when I think what could have happened with Sanderson Farms, the crown jewel industry in Robeson County. Would they have carried through and voted against Sanderson if Commissioner (Lance) Herndon, whose district is where Sanderson is located, opposed the company?” Biggs said. “If the same rules applied it would have killed the biggest economic development project ever in Robeson County.”
The utility companies had followed proper procedure and should not have been denied the permit, he said.
“But I’m optimistic this will be corrected,” Biggs said. “It’s just a bump in the road.”
Greg Cummings, Robeson County’s economic developer and industrial recruiter, said he believes that those involved in the process of developing the Atlantic Coast Pipeline understand that Robeson County supports their plan and welcomes industry that will further economic development.
“Resolutions have been sent by the county, regional chamber of commerces, the Robeson County Committee of 100, county municipalities and the Southeastern Economic Partnership, supporting the Atlantic Coast Pipeline,” he said. “That’s telling them of our support.”
To be competitive in industrial recruitment and job creation natural gas must be available, Cummings said.
“Those companies looking for a site to locate want natural gas,” Cummings said. “When they look at communities to locate, they look for water and sewer, telecommunications, natural gas, and certified sites. If any of those are missing, the proposed site is disqualified.”
Issues surrounding the permit request will be reviewed and addressed, said board Chairman Tom Taylor. He doesn’t know exactly how or when the issue will be resolved.
“I have to talk with our attorney,” Taylor said.
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.