LUMBERTON — The governmental approval process for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline continues at a pace that points to construction beginning in early 2018.
“We’ve received most of our state and federal approvals over the last few months. Only a few approvals remain, which we expect to receive by early next year,” said Aaron Ruby, Dominion Energy’s Media Relations manager.
Pending are a federal water quality certification from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a state water quality certification from the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, a second erosion and sediment control permit from N.C. DEQ, and a storm water management permit from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection.
Ruby noted the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s partners, Dominion, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and Southern Company Gas, already have received erosion and sediment control permits from N.C. Department of Environmental Quality for Robeson, Cumberland and Sampson counties. The second permit is for the affected northern counties in North Carolina.
“Once we receive these approvals, we’ll request a Notice to Proceed from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission,” Ruby said. “That’s the final authorization we’ll need to begin construction.”
Governmental approval isn’t the only roadblock in the path of the proposed $5 billion, 600-mile natural gas pipeline that would start in West Virginia and end near Pembroke. There is a legal challenge in Robeson County and more than 20 organizations, citing environmental, health and other concerns, are fighting the ACP.
Still, Ruby is confident the needed permits and certifications will be approved, and the pipeline will be operational in late 2019.
“We’re working on a number of fronts to prepare for construction early next year,” he said. “We finished pipe production very recently. We’ve reached easement agreements with more than 80 percent of landowners, and we’re making progress with many of the remaining landowners. We have project labor agreements in place with each of the major trade unions. Hiring and training is already underway.”
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approval issued Oct. 13 cleared the way for limited tree-felling and other preconstruction work to start by the end of this year or in early January, Ruby said.
The commission’s approval gave pipeline developers the authority to use eminent domain to acquire land if they can’t reach an agreement with landowners. The prospect of eminent domain is opposed by many ACP foes, and raises the possibility of protests as construction begins.
“We anticipate some opposition, but we’re working closely with local and state law enforcement,” Ruby said. “Our primary concern is safety. We’re taking every precaution to protect public safety and to make sure our employees and contractors can work in a safe environment.”
A petition was filed Oct. 6 in Robeson County Superior Court asking the court to review the county Board of Commissioners’ decision on Aug. 7 to approve a conditional-use permit that cleared the way for the construction of a pipeline metering and regulating station, and a tower on N.C. 710 near Pembroke. The petitioners are Dwayne Goins and Robie Joe Goins, owners of property where the proposed pipeline is to end.
The legal action seeks to have the conditional-use permit application remanded and the permit revoked.
Patrick Pait, Robeson County’s attorney, declined to comment about the petition, citing a policy prohibiting public comment regarding a pending legal matter. He did say the county has filed its reply and no hearing date has been set.
“This is still in the early stages,” Ruby said. “We haven’t submitted our reply brief yet. The Planning Commission and Board of Commissioners both unanimously approved the permit after a thorough process with extensive public participation. They carefully considered all of the public comments and issues that were raised at multiple public hearings. They reached an appropriate and well-informed decision based on the requirements of the ordinance.”
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approval ruling of Oct. 13 also is being challenged by NC WARN, a Durham-based nonprofit that addresses “the climate crisis and other hazards posed by electricity generation.”
NC WARN is one of 20 organizations that have filed with FERC for a rehearing of the approval decision, said John Runkle, an NC WARN attorney.
“Either the FERC agrees to a rehearing or we take them to court,” Runkle said.
The nonprofit opposes the ACP for several reasons, he said. Chief among them is the threat methane leaks pose to the climate.
The “environmental injustice” posed by the pipeline is another primary reason for NC WARN’s opposition, he said. The pipeline’s proposed path is through an inordinate amount of property inhabited by poor people who don’t have the means to fight seizure of property by the ACP partnership, according to NC WARN.
“Dominion and other big companies should not have the right and legal means to take private property for private profit,” Runkle said.
NC WARN also agrees with environmental-defense organizations that see the pipeline as a threat to natural areas and the quality of drinking water, he said.
Robeson County factored into opposition voiced by The Alliance to Protect Our People and Places We Live after the N.C. DEQ issued in late October a fourth letter asking for more information from the pipeline’s builders as part of the agency’s water quality certification process.
A written statement from the group reads in part, “The location and status of the proposed endpoint of the pipeline in Robeson County has been highly controversial. It is located in the heart of the Native American community at gateways to Prospect and Pembroke, two of the oldest Indian communities in the U.S. Unlike proposed pipeline development in neighboring Cumberland County, the Robeson County location is in the middle of a well-populated area that already hosts two other pipelines and a compressor station. Further development will make it one of the most high-risk areas to live along the entire 600-mile route of the proposed pipeline.”
The ACP pipeline has been widely supported by business and political leaders who say the project will lower energy costs and boost economic development. The supporters say it is needed for clean energy and to attract industry that wants access to natural gas. The pipeline’s owners would pay property taxes on its infrastructure.
Reach T.C. Hunter by calling 910-816-1974 or via email at [email protected]