August 13, 2014
Hundreds of people packed the Nelson County Middle School auditorium Tuesday night to hear Dominion's plans to put a natural gas pipeline through the county.
The proposal would put a 550-mile long pipeline, beginning in West Virginia, snaking through Virginia, and ending near the southern border of North Carolina. Most of that pipeline would be within Virginia, with about 35 miles of it in Nelson County. The purpose is to "help local gas utilities serve their customers with a new, reliable source of supply," according to Dominion.
But several of the citizens at the meeting held signs of protest, or wore t-shirts with "No Pipeline" written across the chest.
"If we just roll over and say to these private companies that they can do whatever they want, they will come over and do it," said Priscilla Sonne, one of the demonstrators. "Their bottom line is profit, where our bottom line is to protect our land and to protect our farms."
The pipe itself would be 42 inches wide, and buried out of sight. However, Dominion would have to remove all trees and other obstructions for 75 feet surrounding the pipeline.
Members of the board of supervisors raised concerns about possible leaks, or damaging water supplies, or ruining mountain views. A team of Dominion officials tried to answer all of the questions, but often gave vague responses, claiming that the process was so early on, they didn't have all the answers. At times, the crowd laughed derisively at the vague answers.
The biggest reaction of the night came when a supervisor asked Dominion if it was possible that the pipeline could just sidestep the county completely.
"Right now the route that we proposed is through Nelson County," said Chet Wade, Dominion's Vice President of Corporate Communications. "I'm sure there are those who would wish that's not the case, but we are looking for the best route possible."
Dominion officials repeatedly stressed that they were looking for the least-obstructive path possible. But many of the residents disagreed.
"Why this pipeline route?" Roseland resident Edward Ely asked. "It comes through some of the hardest ground, through some of the most limited water resources."
Many supervisors questioned how Dominion would find enough water to test the pipeline, and whether the water would contaminate the area. Other residents said the company appeared to be rushing into the project.
"They have just told you that they don't care about the citizens of Nelson," Charlotte Rea told the supervisors. "They're going to proceed with this pipeline."
"This is our home, this is our land," said Morgan Barker. "We will decide whether it's feasible for them to come through."
Dominion officials said the pipeline would be dug largely with backhoes, but an occasional explosion may be needed to break through rock. The company explained that there are already thousands of miles of pipelines in Virginia, and they can be done safely.
"Everything that you thought could go wrong is going to go wrong," resident Nicholas Oppenheimer warned the supervisors. "And all the things that you didn't think were going to go wrong, are also gonna go wrong."
Dominion has begun sending homeowners letters, asking permission to come to their property to conduct site surveys. They say agreeing to the survey does not imply consent to allow the pipeline. They are just hoping to get more information about the land in order to choose the best route possible.
Dominion officials say, if the pipeline comes, the company will not be buying the land that is used by the pipeline. The land will continue to be owned by the current landowners, but the company will take out an easement to use the property. The property owner would get a one-time payment from the company, based on how much pipeline is put on their property and what type of land it travels through.
Dominion officials said they could seek eminent domain to use land from uncooperative landowners, but they would seek it only as a "last resort."
Dominion officials plan to come back in September to more directly answer questions from residents. If the project gets approved, they hope to have the pipeline up and running by late 2018.