An all-volunteer army of citizen scouts, now being recruited by environmentalist organizations under the name N.C. Pipeline Watch, will be assigned to patrol the construction that is about to begin in
Citizen patrols are an increasingly common strategy by environmental activists at a time that state oversight agencies are hobbled by budget cuts and don’t have enough inspectors to send out into the field, according to environmentalists. So activists form and train their own reconnaissance teams to collect potentially harmful data on large-scale farming operations, industrial mining sites and energy projects that the environmentalists oppose.
The monitoring activities parallel a half-dozen state and federal lawsuits the
“Pipeline monitoring groups like NC Pipeline Watch are popping up because Duke has proven it can’t be trusted to monitor its own operations, so the people feel they have to do it themselves,” Jackson said.
The surveillance is planned against a background of concerns expressed in a December report by state security analysts that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline could become a target of “domestic terrorists” and “homegrown violent extremists” who could take advantage of legal gatherings to carry out attacks on equipment, public safety officers or pipeline employees. The field analysis report, prepared by the N.C. Information Sharing and Analysis Center and the
Jackson said that the citizen-observers will not enter private property without permission and expect to work with landowners who feel they were forced to lease their land for the project or will have the pipeline running through their land as a result of an eminent domain court proceeding.
Citizen monitors are expected not to trespass or interfere with construction work.
“Obviously, it’s not safe for the public to be wandering around in a construction zone, whether it’s a high rise, industrial plant or highway that’s being built,” Duke Energy spokeswoman
Today’s volunteer monitors are enhanced by new digital technologies, such as Geographic Information System mapping, hi-resolution cameras and, in a pinch, an iPhone. They will largely be looking for deficiencies in filtration systems, fences and other measures pipeline crews need to put in to limit erosion, silt and other damage to waterways during construction.
“The consequences of missing or improperly installed erosion control measures is polluted runoff carrying sediment to our streams,” Jackson said. “Too much sediment can be harmful to aquatic life.”
Nearly two-thirds of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline will cross eight counties in
“In that region in particular,” Jackson said, “freshwater mussels are particularly sensitive to this type of pollution.”
“This is an enormous project,” said
English was part of a small group that took a preliminary scoping flight, lasting 3 1/2 hours, along the pipeline route several weeks ago. Their pilot,
Lynch has spent the past 12 years volunteering for SouthWings, an
Lynch, 78, said his goal on the pipeline is “at least to get it stopped where there’s potential hazard.” He said he’s seen plenty of environmental damage as a volunteer pilot, including the state’s waterways visibly discolored by pollution from chicken waste and hog waste flowing from farms and into rivers.
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline will carry natural gas from fracking operations in
“We respect the right of every citizen to be involved in the process,” McGee said by email. “Ultimately we must be accountable to the state and federal agencies that permitted the project. The agencies have the knowledge and experience to oversee our work and ensure compliance with the law.”
McGee suggested the volunteers are not necessary, noting that dozens of state and federal inspectors will be “looking over our shoulder throughout construction,” in addition to industry inspectors supplied by the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
“The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is receiving the most rigorous regulatory oversight of any energy infrastructure project in
“With any project that has the potential for environmental impacts, we welcome input from the public to alert DEQ to potential violations,” she said. “The information can often assist staff in their efforts to monitor construction activities and respond more quickly when violations occur.”
Despite the presence of inspectors, the pipeline was cited by
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