By Bob Stuart, Daily Progress
VERONA — It was not a true legal rezoning in Augusta County Wednesday night, but there was real and intense debate about the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
A three-hour public hearing held by the county board of supervisors on the pipeline resulted in a full Augusta County Government Center, and a parade of both official and 40 citizen speakers.
A crowd of 300 filled the government center to watch the hearing.
Dominion Resources explained both the necessity and the value of the proposed natural gas pipeline, which will flow through 43 miles of Augusta County when complete.
But many affected county residents and others offered their concerns about the project. They spoke of the project’s economic and environmental impact, including the possible pollution of water resources in Augusta County.
Joan Geary, an Augusta County resident, said her family encountered problems with sinkholes when drilling a well on their farm. She thinks the pipeline would endanger the county’s water quality and also believes having the pipeline cross her property will devalue it.
Fred Powell, an Augusta County resident, said he opposes the pipeline for geologic, economic and environmental reasons. Powell said the pipeline would come close to his family’s historic farmhouse, built in the 1880s. Powell also said he would not negotiate with Dominion on an easement through his property.
Michael Godfrey, a Swoope property owner, said Augusta County properties are likely to suffer losses. “Who will buy a farm with North America’s largest gas transmission pipeline going across it?’’ Godfrey asked.
An environmental organization, Friends of the Middle River, said it is opposed to the pipeline because of what it could mean for Augusta County’s water resources.
“The pipeline would cross dozens of streams in Augusta County including the headwaters of the Calfpasture, South and Middle rivers, and Christians Creek,’’ said Darrell Schwalm of Friends of the Middle River. “Whatever happens to our waters in Augusta County all flows downstream and eventually affects the Shenandoah River and Chesapeake Bay.’’
Nancy Sorrells, the co-chair of the Augusta County Alliance, an organization that has mounted rallies and other anti-pipeline activities, spoke against the project.
Sorrells said the scope of the pipeline alone should be reason for concern. “Dominion has never built a 42-inch pipeline and no pipeline of this size has ever been built over this terrain in the country,’’ she said.
Sorrells said Dominion has been fined a number of times. Since the project was announced last summer, Sorrells said Dominion has been fined for environmental violations on a smaller pipeline project in West Virginia, and said the utility is in court because of leaking coal ash pits in a Virginia river.
Sorrells described the pipeline as “all pain and no gain.” “Our property rights are ignored, our precious water resources are threatened, our public safety is compromised, our environmental and historic resources ravaged, and our farm and properties devalued,’’ she said.
Dominion offered a detailed presentation on the need for the pipeline and the measures that would be taken on its safety.
Chet Wade, Dominion’s vice president of corporate communications, addressed many of the issues raised in an Augusta County government staff report.
Wade said Dominion is about seven months from filing the final application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. A pre-filing of the application was made in October.
Wade said Dominion wants to find the best pipeline route stretching from West Virginia to North Carolina, and one with “the least environmental impact’’ across the 550 miles.
Wade said the pipeline would only be built if FERC determined it is a necessity. “There is a very clear public need for this project,’’ Wade said.
He said Dominion is attempting to access the Marcellus Shale formations in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio. More natural gas options are needed, and without them, Wade said Virginia and North Carolina may have to turn away large industrial development projects.
Wade also attempted to put to rest any consideration that the natural gas obtained from the pipeline would be exported. He said natural gas flowing to the Hampton Roads region of Virginia would be used in Hampton Roads.
And Wade attempted to explain the benefits of the project, which has an anticipated completion date of 2018.
The project, when complete, would lower energy prices, provide economic activity during the pipeline’s construction and operation and offer property tax revenues, Wade said.
Wade also presented photos of an existing Columbia Gas natural gas pipeline that flows through Augusta County. “Augusta has gotten along well with the existing natural gas pipeline, and we believe it will with the Atlantic Coast Pipeline,’’ Wade said.
As for inspection of the pipeline, Wade said it would be inspected regularly from air and by inspectors on land.
Timmy Fitzgerald, Augusta County’s director of community development, offered a staff report based on pipeline comments of several county departments including the Augusta County Service Authority.
Fitzgerald said supervisors were also provided comments from concerned Augusta County citizens.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Mike Shull said all of the comments heard Wednesday night would help supervisors put together formal comments about the pipeline that would be submitted to FERC.