February 5, 2016

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FISHERSVILLE – The most popular man at Tuesday night’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline open house was a representative of the permitting agency for the project, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Kevin Bowman, the pipeline’s environmental project manager for FERC, listened patiently for more than two hours as Augusta County residents stated their concerns and asked questions. The open house was held at Augusta Expo and sponsored by Dominion Resources, the company who proposed the pipeline.

“This helps us understand the issues and concerns of the people,” said Bowman, who said he has heard worries about wetlands, endangered species and cultural resources  from Augusta County residents Tuesday night and Nelson County residents last week.

Both counties are smack dab in the path of the 550-mile proposed natural gas pipeline that would extend from West Virginia to North Carolina. Bowman said he was impressed that residents of both Nelson and Augusta counties are “passionate” about where they live, and knowledgeable. And he said the comments are important, because portions of the remarks will eventually work their way into his analysis.

Bowman said the next round of public meetings will be  held late this winter or in early spring by FERC. Those meetings will be more formal and will allow those living in the pipeline route to make public comments to FERC officials.

Dominion Resources pre-filed for the pipeline project with FERC late last year. Dominion Spokesman Chet Wade said a formal application for the pipeline is anticipated late this summer.

Tuesday’s open house had a mixture of  people who oppose and those who support the project, which will include about 43 miles of Augusta County land.

Marion Roberts, an 88-year-old Augusta County resident who lives a few miles from Staunton, said the pipeline would cross her property and come near two homes she owns. “If it (the pipeline) has to be done, it should be smaller,” said Roberts, who is displeased with the 42-inch diameter of the pipeline planned for Augusta County.

Others see the pragmatism of creating a fresh energy source that could not only provide natural gas, but spur additional economic development.

Reo Hatfield, the president of both Reo Distribution and Allied Logistics in Waynesboro, said the pipeline could help Virginia attract urgently needed manufacturing jobs.

Hatfield recalls more than a decade ago when there was resistance to a Walmart coming to west Waynesboro. Later, other businesses followed. “Walmart started the growth of business,” he said.

The presence of pro-pipeline advocates drew criticism from the co-chair of an advocacy group against the pipeline, the Augusta County Alliance.

Augusta County Alliance Co-Chair Nancy Sorrells wrote a letter to FERC she presented Tuesday critical of “non-stakeholders” coming to the open houses and supporting the pipeline. Sorrell said the open houses in Augusta, Nelson and Highland counties were intended to engage affected landowners and stakeholders. Sorrells said Dominion appeared to “pack the open houses” with non-stakeholders who support the pipeline.

Despite Sorrells’ concerns, the pipeline opposition at times proved vocal Tuesday. Several opponents to the pipeline briefly sang the chorus from the anti-pipeline song written by singers and Augusta County residents, Robin and Linda Williams.

Robin Williams said the song titled “We Don’t Want Your Pipeline,” is on YouTube.  Williams knows that it will be an uphill battle to stop the project. “It will be a dogfight to keep it from coming,” he said.

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