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Landowners Gearing Up For Fight Against Proposed Pipeline

In June, Dominion Power sent letters to landowners in Augusta County whose property would be in the path of a proposed natural gas pipeline. The line would run from West Virginia through Virginia to North Carolina. If federal officials approve the project, Dominion would clear a corridor up to 200 feet wide to bury a 42-inch diameter pipeline and require a 75 foot easement for maintenance.  WMRA’s Luanne Austin talked with two Augusta County landowners about how the pipeline would affect them.

Early last year, Jerry and Diane Bryant of Staunton bought a cabin on a creek in the George Washington National Forest where they could spend weekends and eventually retire. In August, the couple received a letter from Dominion Power stating that it planned to survey their seven acres for its proposed pipeline project. Several weeks later, representatives from a company working with Dominion visited the Bryants with a map showing the proposed corridor.

BRYANT:  He pointed to a spot in the middle of the corridor and said, “That’s your house,” so the message here was that the house, all the buildings surrounding the house would be dug up. Later, we found out that the corridor does not include the house.

Buildings are not Bryant’s only concern. He says the creek, which the pipeline would have to cross, contains rare minerals that could be disturbed, and the trees may be original old growth forest. 

BRYANT:  And that’s part of the anguish, the idea that they would mow down 200 to 300 foot swaths of majestic trees.  

Becky Harmon and Dave Buell of Swoope also received a letter in August. The couple lives on just over an acre of land.

HARMON:  It’s not like we have hundreds of acres to where this pipeline really wouldn’t matter. This tiny piece of land that we have matters.   

If the corridor through Harmon’s property is approved, Dominion Power will own an easement on a large portion of her land, which will restrict what she and her husband can do with it.

HARMON:  We have been here almost 24 years, and I have a relationship with this land 26-27 years. I guess ultimately our goal was that someday when we retire, put up a little pole barn, have a couple of head of something-or-other, cattle, goats—something. And we will not be able to do that now.

Harmon says people need to be educated about the effects of the pipeline.

HARMON:  It’s a 42-inch pipeline and people say, there’s already pipelines running across this county. They were 10 inch pipelines, they were replaced with 20 inch pipelines in the 70s. This is over twice the size of that pipeline, pushing a lot more gas at a lot faster speed through it. It’s very dangerous. 

BRYANT:  The karst geology of this area … if there were a leak, the leak, I understand could spread gas through literally miles of this porous geology before it was discovered and then if there was an explosion it could be really massive.

The karst environment underlying much of Augusta County is porous limestone, characterized by sinkholes, internal drains, sinking streams and caves. According to geologists who have studied the area,  any gas leakage from the pipeline could spread widely, leading to contamination of underground water sources and possibly creating an explosive atmosphere. These and other concerns have led Harmon, Bryant and other landowners to engage a law firm to defend their property rights. Bryant is optimistic. 

BRYANT:  For safety reasons and for aesthetic reasons, for the reasons of preserving the National Forest, there’s a strong possibility that the pipeline will not be constructed here.

But Dominion Power is still in the pre-filing stages of applying to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for permission build the pipeline, so any fight over eminent domain—the taking of private property for public gain—is at least two years down the road.

Luanne Austin was a freelance journalist for WMRA from 2014 - 2015.