Aug. 07–GRAHAM — The Alamance County Board of Commissioners had plenty of questions about the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline, Monday Aug. 6, but chose to wait two weeks before voting on a resolution against it.
Commissioner Tim Sutton was absent.
“I understand the county has no legal power,” Union Ridge property owner Kelly Rudd Bollinger said during the public comments period of the commissioners’ regular meeting, “but the county does have a say.”
The proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline Southgate would be a 72-mile, 24-inch-diameter line connecting to the existing MVP in Pittsylvania County, Va., and carrying Marcellus Shale gas to the PSNC distribution system south of Graham near Cherry Lane, according to documents submitted to the county.
The company claims the pipeline will bring cheaper natural gas to the area, which has a growing population and growing demand for energy, 1,260 jobs, $106 million in local spending and $1.3 million per year in county taxes all with less pollution than coal.
Opponents, represented by the Haw River Assembly, say the company significantly exaggerates the tax revenue and the potential demand for natural gas, points out most of those jobs will be temporary, charges many will be taken by out-of-state workers, says the company is unfair to the property owners from whom it buys land, that there are environmental dangers in constructing and maintaining the pipeline and compression stations, and the pipeline deepens the dependence on polluting fossil fuels and fracking.
Other property owners making public comments said the pipeline companies were aggressive in trying to get access to their land and, though a private company, had the right to take land by eminent domain from those who refused to sell.
“This is a bipartisan issue,” Bollinger said. “Private property rights and the environment are what is at stake.”
Laci Warren said a pipeline easement would make property less attractive and therefore less valuable, reducing the tax value to the county.
While opponents were questioning the necessity of the pipeline, Aubrey Hilliard with Texican Natural Gas Co. said the county already dealt with shortages.
“Today I got on my cellphone and noticed that we’re under gas restrictive uses, so Alamance hospital, for example, and Copeland Industries, which asked me to speak for them, are under restricted gas useage today,” Hilliard said.
Copeland Industries, PSNC’s Bill McAulay said, agrees to curtail its use at times of high demand in exchange for lower rates. Commissioner Bob Byrd said he worked at Alamance Regional Medical Center for 35 years and never knew the gas supply to affect operations.
Hilliard blamed Progress Energy for not building enough infrastructure for gas when it moved away from coal, calling the current natural gas infrastructure “Third World.”
“If we’re for gas-powered plants then we’re for the pipeline,” Hilliard said. “If we’re not for the pipeline, we need to seriously discuss rolling blackouts.”
Emily Sutton, the Haw River keeper, told the commissioners about the potential dangers of a pipeline failure, using examples from other states, and environmental damage caused in pipeline construction even when there isn’t a disaster like an explosion. She also said the area didn’t need another gas pipeline.
According to a study conducted by Synapse Energy Economics for the Southern Environmental Law Center and Appalachian Mountain Advocates, an upgrade expected to an existing pipeline and the expected reversal in the direction in another would meet “peak future demand.”
“This is not an economic benefit for our county,” Sutton said. “This is an unneeded pipeline that puts our county at risk and it’s not necessary.”
Commissioner Amy Galey asked Sutton whether that was an objection to this pipeline or natural gas in general. Sutton said it was both, that the industry was problematic, but this pipeline in particular would harm Alamance County.
Galey also questioned Sutton’s claim that pipelines dampen economic development.
“Do you have a response to those who say that the availability of natural gas is necessary to attract new industry?” Galey asked.
Sutton said most of the information she had seen was on residential development, so she couldn’t speak to industrial development.
The Jordan Lake rules, to keep polluting runoff upstream from contaminating the lake, would be a factor, Sutton said, but she couldn’t say how that would be worked out at this stage.
MVP representative Shawn Day said the company hopes to have the pipeline completed by the end of 2020. While there is a proposed route, the details of where it would actually go won’t be known until more surveying is done, Day said, because the route it would take is not yet set. The alternatives that have been drawn out are set to follow existing rights of way like power lines, though there are details to work out.
Galey asked about a map showing the proposed route of the pipeline going within a mile of a Martin Marietta quarry, which does a lot of blasting.
Byrd, who has not been shy about his opposition to the pipeline, said these kinds of projects often go through poorer areas, and said he would like to see the demographic profiles of the property owners affected. He also asked about the estimated tax revenue the company said the county would get from the MVP since the Colonial pipeline brings in only about $17,000 in tax revenue.
County Tax Administrator Jeremy Akins said he did not have enough information to say how much tax revenue the county would get.
Commissioner Eddie Boswell said easements often restrict property owners’ use of land, but they wouldn’t be able to access the gas coming through.
“My biggest question is what is the benefit to these landowners?” Boswell asked.
Galey also asked Day whether property owners would be compensated for the loss of use of their land or just get a one-time payment. Day said that would be part of the negotiation processes of the individual easements.
“So you’ll discuss it but you can’t make a commitment?” Galey asked.
The commissioners voted 4 — 0 to have County Attorney Clyde Albright make changes to the resolution the Haw River Assembly submitted and bring it back for a vote at 7 p.m. Monday Aug. 20.
Reporter Isaac Groves can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 336-506-3045. Follow him on Twitter at @tnigroves.
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