Local coalition opposes natural gas pipeline

Friends of the Shenandoah Mountain, a coalition of organizations pushing for a new scenic area, is voicing concerns regarding the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

The planned 551-mile pipeline — the result of a partnership between Dominion Resources Inc., Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and AGL Resources — would start in West Virginia and extend down into North Carolina.

According to Dominion’s website, part of the pipeline’s purpose would be to provide “lower prices to heat and power.”

The pipeline has been a topic of discussion in the state because of potential impacts to the environment, specifically to the George Washington National Forest.

Since Dec. 11, the National Forest Service has been taking comments in regards to whether or not to allow Dominion permission to cross 12.6 miles of forest land.

That period was slated to end Jan. 9, but on Jan. 7, the forest service announced that it would be pushed back to Jan. 23.

Ken Landgraf, planning staff officer for the national forest, said the period was pushed back because a number of groups could not participate because the period was scheduled during the holiday season.

So far, Landgraf said the forest service has received more than 6,000 comments on the proposed pipeline.

“A lot of what we are hearing is just people concerned that we are even considering the process,” Landgraf said.

Friends of Shenandoah Mountain is primarily concerned that the route comes close to its plans for a national scenic area, said Thomas Jenkins, co-chair of Friends and owner of Shenandoah Bicycle Company.

Lynn Cameron, co-chair of Friends and vice president of the Virginia Wilderness Committee, said, “It just seems like a really poor place for a pipeline of that size.”

The reason for this, Cameron said, is because this area of the forest is “a scenic gateway” that provides access to popular trails as well as fishing and picnic areas.

According to Cameron, the location would also travel “through the Cow Knob Salamander habitat, which is a salamander found nowhere else on Earth.”

Jim Norvelle, director of Dominion Energy Communications, said that they had made an adjustment to the route in Augusta County “to avoid that habitat.”

The list contained concerns such as protecting historical sites such as George Camp and popular tourism attractions such as Ramsey Draft and Braley Pond.

All of the attractions are close to where the current pipeline proposal crosses the forest.

With the safety and environmental impacts, Jenkins said, “Those concerns are going to be there no matter what the route is.”

Norvelle said it is essentially an issue concerning routing.

“We are trying to find the best route with the least impact to the environment, historic and cultural resources,” Norvelle said.

Despite the discussions and concerns over routing, the pipeline is projected to be an economic boom for Virginia.

Chmura Economics and Analytics estimated in a September 2014 report that the pipeline could bring $1.42 billion in “economic activity” to Virginia.

The report also noted that the pipeline would result in nearly 8,800 jobs as well as more than $14 million is tax revenue.

According to Dominion’s website, the pipeline would be in service late in 2018, with the surveying efforts running through June of this year.

The survey efforts by Dominion would work to provide the national forest data on the pipeline’s environmental impact.

Dominion and its partners will only be able to proceed with the project provided the forest service approves the survey and subsequent data.

Analysis of potential survey data, Landgraf said, would give the forest service “a better idea of what might be affected [by the pipeline].”

Landgraf estimated that a decision as to whether or not to allow surveying could come by the end of February.

“We don’t really have a time projected on when we will be making that decision,” Landgraf added.

Norvelle said that Dominion is confident that it will find a solution with the forest service concerning the pipeline’s route.

Jenkins, Cameron and Friends of Shenandoah Mountain are encouraging area residents and organizations to voice their opinions.

“We are speaking to different groups, through social media and just trying to get the word out … and help them realize the potential impact of [the pipeline],” Jenkins said.

Contact staff writer Kevin Green at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kgreen@nvdaily.com