LUMBERTON — Federal approval for construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to begin in North Carolina is being hailed as good economic news for Robeson County.
The county will receive about $900,000 each year in property tax revenue once the pipeline is in operation, County Manager Ricky Harris said Wednesday. The ACP also will be a welcome mat for manufacturing jobs and economic development projects that covet natural gas.
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission officials alerted the pipeline’s builders of the construction go-ahead in a letter dated Tuesday.
Construction in Robeson County will mean jobs for local residents, said Channing Jones, county Economic Development director. He said he has learned in talks with a local pipeline liaison that more than 200 people will be hired to help with construction in Robeson County.
The construction jobs will be temporary, but they will be transferable, Jones said. The skills gained in training for the construction jobs and the experience gained by workers mean they will be able to find work maintaining or building other pipelines in the area, such as lines that will feed into the ACP.
Robeson County isn’t the only county in the region that will benefit from the pipeline’s construction, Harris said. The ACP will mean $680 million in total economic activity across eastern North Carolina during construction. It could create more than 4,000 jobs.
“Yes, FERC approved our notice to proceed with full pipeline construction in North Carolina. We’ll get started in Northampton and Halifax in the coming days and then Cumberland and Robeson pretty soon after. This is obviously another major step forward for the project,” said Aaron Ruby, Media Relations manager for Dominion Energy, one of the partners in the ACP project.
Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and Southern Company Gas also are partners in the project to build the $5 billion, 600-mile pipeline that would carry fracked natural gas from West Virginia through Virginia and North Carolina. The pipeline would end near Pembroke.
“We already had permission to begin construction on the compressor station, the meter and regulating stations and the office building in North Carolina, which are underway,” said Tammie McGee, a Duke Energy spokesperson. “The project now has the necessary permissions to lay pipe, although clearing and grading the right-of-way will be the first order of business.”
Work will progress simultaneously along the pipeline’s route, she said. Construction activities will take place along two route sections in North Carolina in 2018. One of those sections includes Robeson County.
The pipeline is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2019, McGee said.
“FERC’s green light is great news for the millions of consumers and businesses in our region who will soon have access to cleaner, lower-cost energy as well as the infrastructure to attract new industries and businesses to eastern North Carolina,” McGee said.
Tuesday’s FERC letter clearing the way for ACP construction was signed by David Swearingen, chief of Gas Branch 4 Division of Gas – Environment and Engineering. Swearingen also issued a warning to ACP’s builders.
“I remind you that Atlantic and DETI (Dominion Energy Transmission, Inc.) must comply with all applicable terms and conditions of the Order, as well as the conservation measures identified in other agency authorizations required by federal law, and any required state or local permits. I also remind you that if a court or agency invalidates a required federal authorization after construction has begun, pursuant to Environmental Condition 2 of the Order, the Director of OEP (Office of Energy Projects) may take whatever steps are necessary to ensure the protection of environmental resources, including issuance of a stop work order,” the letter reads in part.
Robeson County’s leaders are aware of the risks.
“Robeson County will work closely with federal and state agencies to ensure that environmental guidelines are in place and monitored,” County Manager Harris said.
Tuesday’s FERC action comes amid a federal court challenge that seeks to halt construction in the wake of a ruling issued in May by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond, Va.
The court invalidated a key environmental review that dealt with risks to sensitive species, a decision ACP opponents argued should have stopped it. The court ruled the review was too vague to be enforced.
However, FERC has allowed the pipeline to progress in areas where the builders already have state approvals.
At issue in the federal court decision was the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s “incidental take statement,” which sets limits for harming or killing sensitive species along the pipeline route, including bats, fish, mussels and an endangered bumblebee.
The 4th Circuit has yet to release its full opinion.
The pipeline has been a source of debate in Robeson County. The Robeson County Board of Commissioners approved a resolution of support on Feb. 1, 2016. More recently the Lumbee Tribal Council has been unable to work out an agreement with the pipeline owners, who are looking for acceptance and reportedly were willing to pay the tribe as much as $1 million to issue a resolution of support.
Critics of the ACP say there isn’t sufficient demand for the natural gas and the pipeline threatens the environment and is potentially dangerous.