For Some, The Atlantic Coast Pipeline Spells P-R-O-M-I-S-E

Mar 5, 2015

Lots of media coverage of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline has focused on the people fighting hard to stop it.

But according to Dominion, the company proposing the 550-mile pipeline, about four in five landowners along the route have consented to surveys of their land.  In Buckingham, Cumberland and Prince Edward counties those rates are even higher, and by some measures, the pipeline has gotten more of a welcome there than it has elsewhere. WMRA’s Andrew Jenner filed this report.

Spend any time around elected leaders in small, rural communities, and you’ll hear the following two words a lot: economic growth.

DONNIE BRYAN: When you mention Buckingham County, a lot of people don’t know where it is. It’s a great place to have a business. I wish we could get more people here. It’s very tough.

Donnie Bryan is a second-grade teacher and a member of the county Board of Supervisors. When he found out that Dominion wanted to build a huge natural gas pipeline straight through Buckingham County, he saw opportunity.

BRYAN: I look at it from the standpoint of the growth in the county. With natural gas, you can grow as a county. You can have businesses come in. Because the majority of businesses today want natural gas. It’s very competitive to get a business to come to your county, and if they have certain criteria that they want, and if you don’t meet it, they’re going to skip you and just go right down the list.

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline would be an “open-access” line. That means communities along the route could tap into it and, potentially, use the gas to grow their economies. Last July, Bryan and the other Buckingham supervisors passed a resolution in support of the project. That also happened next door in Prince Edward County, where Wade Bartlett is the county administrator.

WADE BARTLETT: It would give us the only opportunity that we have to avail ourselves of the natural gas. Right now, economic development projects are overwhelmingly looking for natural gas, and we have none to provide them at this time.

Electric plants in Virginia and North Carolina would be the pipeline’s main customers, and they’ve already bought 91 percent of the gas it would transport. The remaining nine percent may not sound like much, said Dominion spokesman Frank Mack, but that’s 9 percent of a huge total capacity – 1.5 billion cubic feet of gas per day.

FRANK MACK: There’s plenty of gas to be able to be tapped off of this pipeline, and we continue to communicate with lots of counties and cities along the route about potential economic development.

Then there’s expansion of the tax base. In Buckingham County, Dominion projects the pipeline would generate more than $1 million in new property taxes once it goes into service. That would be quite a boost to a county now operating on a budget with just $15 million in local tax revenue.

The pipeline route crosses 122 parcels of land in Buckingham County. About 80 percent of those owners have given Dominion permission to survey the route. Moving southeast into Cumberland and Prince Edward counties, the landowner permission rates climb above 90 percent. That’s indication, Mack says, that in this part of the state, it’s not just local government that’s getting behind the project; people are too.

MACK: We have, I think, a large and growing group of supporters for this project, specifically for landowners.

Mack would count Novey Wiley among them. Wiley and his siblings own about 30 acres in Cumberland County, and gave Dominion permission to survey. He’d be happy to see more jobs in the area, but says that he and his neighbors want to know a whole lot more about how the pipeline could affect them.

NOVEY WILEY: We have given them the OK to check it out, but then I just need to know a little bit more about what’s going on. How deep would that line be? And what type of line will it be? And if something was to happen to it or cause the gas to leak? You know, a lot of folks are kind of concerned about that too.

According to Peggy Bouchard, who a few miles from Wiley, that support isn’t as widespread as Dominion says.

PEGGY BOUCHARD: I don’t think anyone is happy about it, but the presumption is that it takes vast resources to fight somebody like Dominion. People are afraid that they wouldn’t have the money to make it happen. I’ve had lots of folks reach out and say, ‘Man, keep up the good fight. We can’t fight, but maybe you can stop it.’

Bouchard has refused Dominion permission to survey, and anticipates that the company will take her to court.

BOUCHARD: We love our farm. We work hard on our farm. We don’t want the pipeline through the property at all.

That’s a perspective that Buckingham County supervisor Donnie Bryan understands.

BRYAN: I certainly wouldn’t want it to come through my backyard, and I do sympathize with the people that it goes through. However we also talked with the county attorney, and whether we said yes or no to the pipeline, it’s going to happen. That’s my feeling. It’s going to come through somebody’s property. Dominion is going to compensate the people for it. Certainly, I sympathize, but if it does go through their property, then it’s up to them to work out the best compensation that they can from Dominion. And I strongly urge them to do that.

You’ll never please everybody, Bryan says. But considering his county on the whole, he thinks that there’s a lot more to be gained from the Atlantic Coast Pipeline than there is to lose.