Closer to home: Could pipeline run through Albemarle?

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The Atlantic Coast Pipeline could run through these Nelson County mountains. Photo: Jack Looney The Atlantic Coast Pipeline could run through these Nelson County mountains. Photo: Jack Looney

In May, members of a Wintergreen nonprofit organization submitted four requests to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to reroute the Atlantic Coast Pipeline out of their town. One of their ideas? Run it through Albemarle County, instead.

The 600-mile, 42-inch natural gas line is currently proposed to slice through the outskirts of the Wintergreen community on its way from Lyndhurst to an area just north of Farmville. The group, called Friends of Wintergreen, has attempted to get around Dominion by submitting the new route proposals directly to FERC, which will ultimately rule on whether the pipeline will be approved and where it will run.

Friends of Wintergreen has publicly stated that it does not oppose the ACP, generally. “Their primary purpose is to try to get it away from their businesses in the Wintergreen community,” says Kirk Bowers, the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club’s pipelines campaign manager.

“Dominion’s proposed route will cut through the main street of one of Virginia’s largest tourism [areas], shutting down two new hotel developments and killing hundreds of new planned tourism jobs,” says Jonathan Ansell, chairman of Friends of Wintergreen. “There are examples of better and possible alternatives,” he says, such as running a pipeline alongside an existing one.

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Friends of Wintergreen has proposed a new Atlantic Coast Pipeline route that would send it through Albemarle County.

The proposed route would divert the pipeline through Fluvanna and then North Garden, instead of through Wintergreen, but Ansell says the entire route, including what Friends of Wintergreen has drafted to run through Nelson County, would be located in existing rights of way, including railroads, highways and electric transmission lines, causing less damage than the route proposed by Dominion, according to Ansell.

“It’s standard operating procedure for Dominion to dismiss any solutions other than their own,” Ansell says. “In our case, they claim our routes are unbuildable for land use [or] constructability reasons. Our engineers and environmental teams, who have closely evaluated their claims, disagree.”

But Dominion spokesperson Aaron Ruby says the construction challenges, as well as laws protecting federally managed land, make the nonprofit’s requests infeasible.

“We’ve looked very carefully at each of these routes and we’ve given them the careful consideration that they deserve,” Ruby says. “They’re well-intentioned, but it does not appear that all of the various factors that you have to weigh when developing a proposed route were carefully considered.”

He says Dominion has made more than 300 adjustments to the proposed pipeline’s path to limit impacts on the environment, individual landowners and cultural and historic resources.

While the decision is in FERC’s hand, the commission does not have a deadline to which it must respond to Friends of Wintergreen, according to Ansell.

“Fortunately for Albemarle, we’re already well-organized here,” says Bowers, who nods to local pipeline-opposing groups, such as 350.org, Appalachian Voices and Appalachian Mountain Advocates. He calls Friends of Wintergreen’s plan to locate the ACP in Albemarle, “just a pipe dream.”

Bowers says no matter where the pipeline is located it will contribute significantly to climate change across the state.

There are currently 49.7 million tons of carbon dioxide in Virginia, according to measurements taken from 177 stationary points by the Sierra Club, which calculated that the 300-foot Mountain Valley Pipeline—slated to run from northwestern West Virginia in Bradshaw to Pittsylvania County in southern Virginia—and ACP, if approved, would contribute another 95 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year.

“So, if you are concerned about climate change and the heating effect,” Bowers says, “it is tremendous when you triple the amount of greenhouse gases you put into the atmosphere.”

Additionally, Ansell says Virginians need to understand that the approval of the ACP will prolong dependence on fracking and fossil fuels by a generation.

“This is especially troubling as the $45 billion energy company was recently ranked as one of the lowest users of renewable energy in America,” Ansell says, referring to a recent benchmark by Clean Edge—a group of clean energy researchers in Portland and San Francisco—which ranked Dominion dead last out of the top 30 U.S. investor-owned utilities in the category of incremental energy efficiency.

“Dominion is the largest corporate contributor to politicians in the commonwealth, effectively immunizing itself from contrary political pressure,” he says. “When’s the last time you heard a politician publicly criticize Dominion for being irresponsible?”

Updated July 13 at 10:19am to clarify that the pipeline’s proposed route runs through the outskirts of the Wintergreen community and not through Wintergreen Resort. It also stops just north of Farmville.

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