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Feds clear way for pipeline

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By Lindell John Kay
Staff Writer

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Builders of a natural gas pipeline through Nash County say they are pleased with a federal study on its environmental impacts released Friday, but community and conservation groups are blasting the report.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission released its draft environmental review of the $5-billion, 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline funded by Duke Progress Energy and Dominion Resources.

The pipeline will carry natural gas from West Virginia to North Carolina running through about 30 miles of Nash County.

The report, which was two years in the making, finds measures proposed by ACP companies significantly reduce and mitigate the environmental impacts of the project. The draft report states that natural gas pipelines don't adversely impact tourist economies or residential property values while providing a boost to economic development.

The report is another major step forward for the project that's vital to bringing new jobs, cleaner air and energy security to the region, said Leslie Hartz, vice president of pipeline construction for Dominion Energy.

“The draft report represents a very significant milestone in the federal review process and brings us one step closer to making this important project a reality,” Hartz said. “While we have to review the draft further, we believe it confirms that the project can be built in an environmentally responsible way that protects the public safety and natural resources of our region.”

Environmental and property rights advocates totally disagree with the report, said Cat McCue, the communications director for Appalachian Voices, an environmental advocacy group.

“America’s next big pipeline fight is emerging in the mountain towns and farming communities of West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina,” McCue said. “With federal regulators poised to rubber-stamp the proposed fracked-gas Atlantic Coast Pipeline, landowners, community leaders and their allies are taking inspiration from the water protectors at Standing Rock and vowing to stand together to stop it.”

McCue joins dozens of local groups and public advocacy organizations in condemning federal regulators for ignoring evidence that the proposed pipeline isn't needed and puts lives, communities, drinking water supplies, private property, publicly owned natural resources and the climate at unacceptable risk.

Opponents of the pipeline include landowners, farmers, business leaders, Native American tribes and rural black communities all who reject the company’s plan to take their land without their consent.

The fight has drawn comparisons to the ongoing citizen-led resistance at Standing Rock against the Dakota Access Pipeline and to the fight in Nebraska to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline.

“The Atlantic Coast project would pump fracked gas across West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina, harming communities, water resources, private property, historic sites and iconic public treasures including the Blue Ridge Parkway and Appalachian Trail,” McCue said. “The groups say FERC failed to honestly assess these impacts and disregarded evidence that the project would lock consumers into decades more reliance on dirty fossil fuels.”

Ericka Faircloth, a Lumbee Indian who is a member of the grassroots group EcoRobeson, said residents of low wealth will be the most severely impacted by higher utility rates to pay for the pipeline.

“Folks who live in Robeson County, one of the poorest and most diverse counties in North Carolina, are especially vulnerable to the empty promise of jobs,” Faircloth said.

The pipeline is set to cross 1,989 bodies of water, including 851 perennial, 779 intermittent, 248 ephemeral, 64 canals or ditches, 21 major water bodies and 47 open water ponds or reservoirs with some waterbodies crossed more than once. In all there would be 76 homes within 100 feet of pipeline and 66 new access roads built during construction, according to the report.

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline remains critically important to meeting the growing energy needs of public utilities in Virginia and North Carolina, said Jen Kostyniuk, director of Dominion Energy Communications.

“It is essential to promoting economic development across the region, lowering carbon emissions and continuing the transition to a cleaner energy future,” Kostyniuk said. “Today’s draft environmental report moves us one step closer to building a stronger economy and a cleaner environment for the future of our region.”

In response to requests from numerous elected officials and organizations, FERC has extended the usual 45-day period for public comments; the deadline is April 6, 2017.

The Draft Environmental Impact Statement is available for download on the FERC website: http://elibrary.FERC.gov/idmws/file_list.asp?accession_num=20161230-4000.

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