By Rachael Smith, Nelson County Times
Though Dominion Resources intended for its second open house event in Nelson County to be much like the first one held in September, those who attended had a few surprises in store at the Jan. 14 meeting.
Three separate times during the evening, groups in opposition of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline that would run about 35 miles through Nelson sang “We Don’t Want Your Pipeline” by Robin and Linda Williams and “We Shall Overcome.”
“We felt the songs would well-express our passion and solidarity in opposing the proposed pipeline,” said Free Nelson organizer Marion Kanour.
Also new at the meeting, held at Nelson County High School, was the presence of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
FERC representatives were not there to convince residents of how the pipeline would benefit the county, but instead to inform them about the federal approval process.
At the end of October, Dominion pre-filed its application with FERC. This summer, Dominion plans to file its formal and final application, in which FERC will have the ultimate approval or denial.
Kevin Bowman, environmental project manager with FERC, said the commission is present at open houses solely to learn and gather information from residents and inform them of the FERC process.
“We’re in the baby steps of starting our environmental review process,” he said. “And as we start moving forward with that process, we will reach out the public to gather information so we can complete our review of the project.”
Bowman said once FERC hears residents’ concerns, further research can be conducted within the commission.
“It’s so important we can talk to FERC and they can take our comments,” affected landowner Anne Buteau said. “Now we can make sure that FERC knows exactly what our concerns are, and they need to address it.”
Residents could submit written comments to leave with FERC at the open house.
Dominion spokesman Chet Wade said, for the most part, Nelson residents’ concerns have been pretty consistent since the project was announced last May.
Though Dominion said it has been in constant communication with residents about those concerns, Wade said he still hears quite a bit of misinformation about the pipeline.
“We work to fix that and educate people,” he said. “The process from our point of view is working. It’s designed to be a very open and participatory process. Everyone’s voices are being heard and we are certainly hearing them, and so is the FERC, and we will continue to hear them.”
Wade said Dominion still is gathering information from landowners and is requesting to survey their land. Nelson County residents have been the least receptive to surveying, with 69 percent denying permission.
Kathy Versulys, of Afton, is a landowner on the proposed path. She said she is more energized since the last open house and feels stronger than ever that Nelson County is the wrong place for the pipeline.
“I just can’t imagine that Nelson County isn’t the most obviously worst place to put a 42-inch pipeline,” she said.
Versulys said the geology of the county is what she feels makes it unsuitable.
“They want to put the pipeline directly over where the mountains slid right off in 1969 [during Hurricane Camille],” she said. “There is a history of rainstorms like that.”
Wade said construction is adapted to the topography of each location and pipelines have been successfully built in terrain more rugged than Nelson County.
“Maps of interstate pipelines traverse up and down the Appalachian Mountains and Rocky Mountains,” he said. “Pipeline builders are very experienced in building safe and successful pipelines in that kind of terrain. It’s done every day.”
Many Nelson residents are crossing their fingers for a reroute out of the county.
“We haven’t seen anything yet that would cause us to not come through Nelson,” Wade said. “I can’t tell you the route won’t adjust, as it continues to, but I can’t see anything that would cause us to do a major reroute.”
Scott Seaton, of Waynesboro, is a physician at the University of Virginia with several patients from Nelson County. He said he supports the pipeline for the economic benefits it would provide for Nelson and the surrounding areas.
“This would provide lower fuel prices, an environmental benefit and increased tax basis for schools,” he said. “It creates jobs, and lower prices on electricity and fuels, and people will be relocating to the area instead of leaving. If we don’t do anything, the people who are hurt most aren’t going to be the landowners who have an easement. The people who will be hurt the most will be the people who are economically disadvantaged.”
Also a supporter of the pipeline, Stoney Creek resident Bob Cleminson said he managed the Texas Gas Transmission Pipeline and the Buckeye Pipeline and knows first-hand about the safety and efficiency measures that are taken with pipelines.
“When I was growing up I had a lot of opportunity and the jobs were plentiful in the steel industry,” he said. “I want the young kids like my grandson and granddaughter and all other kids in the area to have that opportunity. I feel the Atlantic pipeline will give them that opportunity.”
Dominion also invited surrounding counties to the open house. Wade said even though they are not directly affected, it’s still of regional interest.
“Why not invite them? Why be exclusive? If we didn’t invite them, they’d say what about us?” he said.
The next step in the process will be FERC’s scoping meetings, which should be held sometime in February. Scoping meetings allow for more comments from residents. Wade said people can attend and speak one by one to FERC and provide information about their concerns.