Virginia Wrestles With Battles Over Proposed Pipelines

It's a battle that's been brewing in our own backyards for several months, and it keeps getting larger -- energy companies racing to build natural gas pipelines through the Heart of Virginia.

People in the Heart of Virginia take a lot of pride in where they live. So it should come as no surprise that plans for natural gas pipelines to be built in our region, from West Virginia right on through Central and Southwest Virginia, have gotten a very strong and emotional response.

But there's much more than pride on the line. For counties and towns, it's their potential tourism. For residents, it's a battle for their own property.

To tell the story, we start where one pipeline would begin: Mill Creek, West Virginia. A small town of around 700 residents in Randolph County. On this day, the peace and quiet is being disturbed by an impending storm. Not in the skies, but in the ground below.

Arguments continue to pop up around the region, as energy companies race to build pipelines through West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, and more. Currently, three pipelines are proposed to run through the Commonwealth.

Dominion Power's Atlantic Coast Pipeline stretches through Augusta, Buckingham, and Nelson Counties.

EQT Energy's Mountain Valley Pipeline would run through Roanoke County on its way to Pittsylvania County.

Last month, The Williams Company announced plans for a third project, the Western Marcellus.

It too would run through Roanoke - then into Franklin County, also ending in Pittsylvania County.

Dominion made waves with the Atlantic Coast Pipeline over the summer, culminating with Governor McAuliffe's endorsement in early September. At the conference, McAuliffe proclaimed "What we are going to announce today is a "game changer" for the Commonwealth of Virginia."

Constance Brennan hates the idea, saying "We don't really see anything good happening from this."

As the Chair of Nelson County's Board of Supervisors, Brennan joined her colleagues in passing a resolution, formally opposing the construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Brennan continued "We know that for a couple of years, during construction, there will be nothing but chaos in our county."

Brennan, along with many others in Nelson County, is worried about what the construction of the 42-inch pipeline will do to the scenic vistas that make the area popular among Nelson County tourists. She laments "A lot of the land through which this pipeline might run is inaccessible at the present time. So what are they going to do, build roads? We don't know."

Dominion has been fighting an uphill battle with residents along the proposed pipeline from the start.

It began with a pledge from Dominion's CEO Tom Farrell, to make the pipeline a partnership with residents. "We will work closely with landowners, and other stakeholders, to find the best possible route, one that minimizes the impact on natural, cultural, and historic resource, but still meets our operational needs."

But that statement sparked a war of words, regarding property rights. Homeowners have demonstrated and protested in counties across the Commonwealth since them multiple pipelines were first announced.

With the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, landowners first received letters from Dominion in May, asking them to allow survey crews to walk their property.

That includes Joao Barroso. A retired diplomat from China, Barroso bought more than 600 acres near Mill Creek, where he and his American wife could settle with their children. Barroso searched for years for just the right land, and found it in Mill Creek, saying "I just fell in love with West Virginia, because, you know, it's rugged, it's wild, and I just love it."

Its land Dominion desperately wants to survey.

Over several months, Joao engaged in a back-and-forth -- a tug of war -- for information with Dominion and their survey contractors. In emails, Barroso repeatedly asks for "a clear description of the survey, meaning, what will be done on my property?" However, the only responses Joao receives repeatedly say he "..should be receiving a letter soon.", and they "...still need to access the property."

Barroso says the lack of openness, concerning the scope of the surveying work, should concern others, saying"The only way I can interpret it is they are not playing fair. They are not being open about what they are doing."

Numbers released by the energy companies, however, say most landowners have been willing to work with the companies. On Dominion's website, they say 78% of landowners who received survey requests have complied. EQT Energy's Natalie Cox says those numbers along the Mountain Valley Pipeline are even higher at 82%. While Cox understands the concerns of landowners, she says surveying is the time for landowners to talk directly with them, and make their voices heard, saying "Once we walk the property and understand how they'd would want us to treat their land, what they want us to stay away from. Until we walk it, we don't understand their concerns."

Some landowners, however, are standing their ground. And the fight has gotten ugly.

Dominion announced earlier this month it's moving forward with lawsuits against 189 property owners here in Virginia, who have denied surveyors access to their land.

Of those 189, 97 are in Nelson County. Constance Brennan is asking all landowners on the pipeline route to keep up the fight, for the sake of her county. She pleased "They (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) need to hear from everybody who has an interest in this. Whether or not the pipeline comes through your property, we'll all be affected."

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has sole authority to approve these projects. Dominion is already moving forward by pre-filing for approval of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

This is also the time FERC hears comments and concerns from the public, regarding these projects.

You can make your voice heard by leaving a comment for FERC here.

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