LUMBERTON — Person after person spoke against the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline during a public hearing Thursday attended by about 50 people.
Listening to the nearly 20 speakers who came to the Southeastern North Carolina Agricultural Events Center were representatives of North Carolina departments of Environment, Commerce, Cultural Resources and Emergency Management. It was the last of three general listening sessions on the proposed $5.5 billion, 600-mile pipeline. Separate public hearings on water and air quality have been held.
Duke Energy and it subsidiary Piedmont Natural Gas, lead partner Dominion Energy and Southern Company Gas, have proposed the 36-inch natural gas pipeline that would originate in West Virginia and terminate in the Prospect community of Robeson County. Along the way, it would serve the growing needs of major industry and several Duke power plants, which would transition away from coal.
Speakers attacked virtually every aspect of the proposed pipeline, including public safety, environmental and cultural degradation, and lack of economic benefits. Robeson County Manager Ricky Harris and Economic Development Director Greg Cummings attended, but did not speak. Both have indicated their support.
“There are real impacts on the people and land,” said Eddie Moore, a Prospect resident. “How will they protect the people of the Prospect community, who are served by a volunteer fire department?”
“The only pipeline that never fails is the one that is never built,” said Maria McDonald, of Sustainable Sandhills. “There are 2,000 pipeline incidents per year with 100 fatalities and $3.4 billion in damage. That’s 1.6 incidents per day.”
“My family is affected by this project,” said Robie Goins, who identified himself as a Lumbee Indian with a degree in civil engineering. “Four hundred and seventy-four acres in Robeson County are affected. The pipeline crosses Bear Swamp, Burnt Swamp and Big Marsh Swamp, tributaries of the Lumber River.”
Supporters say that natural gas is a cleaner and cheaper energy source, and that industries increasingly prefer it. They say industry looking for a new location want access to natural gas, and that its availability will bring critical jobs to Eastern North Carolina, whose economy is depressed when compared with other regions of North Carolina.
Mac Legerton, a community organizer, questioned its benefit, and suggested a racial component to its routing.
“This project impacts more American Indians than any pipeline project in the history of the United States,” Legerton said. “The pipeline will not benefit Eastern North Carolina, which will bear the burden, but it will benefit the growth areas of the state.”
“This project has a disproportionate impact on American Indian tribes, with 10 percent of the pipeline on ancestral lands,” said Ryan Emanuel, a Robeson County native and associate professor at N.C. State University. “Why are we even discussing water permits when scientific evidence tells us we should be moving in another direction?”
Other speakers criticized fossil fuel altogether and said more emphasis should be put on renewable resources.
Proponents of the project have touted its economic benefits, but speakers noted that only a handful of permanent jobs will be created.
Legerton said the pipeline duplicates an existing pipeline, whose only shortcoming is that Duke Energy does not own it.
On Aug. 7, the Robeson County Board of Commissioners approved a conditional-use permit allowing the construction of a monitoring station and a cell tower near the Prospect Community. The station and tower are essential to the pipeline’s construction. No firm date for completion of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline has been projected pending environmental permits approvals and potential lawsuits.