LUMBERTON — The Robeson County Board of Commissioners tonight did without hesitation what it delayed doing last month, unanimously approving a condition-use permit that is needed for a natural gas line that supporters say will be a major economic boost throughout the region.
The decision came after eight people rose to speak against the permit, which allows for the placement of monitoring station and a 350-foot-tall microwave cell tower near Pembroke as part of the proposed 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a partnership consisting of subsidiaries of Dominion Resources, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and Southern Company. 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., are considered critical for the project.
It took about 90 minutes for the people speaking against approving the conditional-use permit to be heard. Comments touched on the effect on the environment, fears that the project would decrease the values of neighboring homes, safety, claims that the site will not be in harmony with the area, and fear that the gas the station would monitor would explode.
“I stay 800 yards from the site,” said Tammy Cummings, of Pembroke.
She was denied a home refinance loan because of the existing Duke compressor site, she said. Site also affects her quality of life because of a light that “shines like the full moon” into her home and the noise it makes, like “a jet airplane taking off,” she said.
And there is the fear of an explosion.
“More than once I have packed up my kids and left the house because I was afraid it was going to blow up,” Cummings said.
Robie Goins, of Pembroke, rose to speak about the permit prerequisite that the site be in harmony with the area.
“It’s a bunch of farmland around it,” he said.
He said he does not believe that the monitoring station and cell tower will exist in harmony with farmland, a country store and the homes around the site. And many of the people who will live around the site haven’t been notified about the permit application process, and haven’t had a chance to comment on it.
The same couldn’t be said about the issue of allowing hog farms in the area, Goins said.
“We didn’t allow hog farms to get this close to us, so why would we want to let something that could blow us up get this close?” Goins said.
The public comment period started with representatives of the companies wanting to build the pipeline and install the monitoring site with its cell tower trying to assure the people in the near-overflow crowd that all precautions were being made to ensure the site would be as safe.
The representatives, led by Hal Kitchin, of the law firm McGuire Woods LLP, also spoke of training for local first responders to make them capable of handling any problems that might arise and installing an audible siren to warn people living around the site if there is a problem. They expressed a willingness to comply with the conditions to the permit already included by the commissioners and a willingness to comply with any they might place on the permit in the future.
“We’re completely comfortable with all those conditions you have placed on the permit,” Kitchin said.
Last month, after Commissioner Noah Woods motioned to delay the decision, which directly affects his district, the six other commissioners at the meeting agreed to delay. Commissioner David Edge missed that meeting.
The commissioners did so even though they had passed a resolution in support of the pipeline previously.
Opponents at that meeting said more time was needed to discuss the pipeline and its potential environmental impact, and they called for public meetings. But none were held.
Proponents say natural gas is a cleaner energy that coal, and that industry is increasingly looking to its availability when deciding where to locate. Estimates are that the owners would pay Robeson County about $700,000 a year in property taxes on infrastructure.
T.C. Hunter can be reached at 910-816-1974.