Landowners ask tough questions

John Peconom of the Office of Energy Products (second from left), points at a map during Monday night’s MVP Southgate extension open house at the Palladium in Burlington. Potentially-affected homeowners Daniel and Kelly Bollinger (right) also take a look at one of the local maps indicating where the proposed 24-inch natural gas pipeline may run. 

On Monday evening, Burlington’s Palladium hosted the first in a series of informational sessions hosted by the Mountain Valley Pipeline Southgate extension project. 

A large collection of landowners, concerned citizens, public officials such as County Commissioner Chair Amy Galey, as well as numerous supporters and opponents of the proposed pipeline, had two hours to get information and voice their concerns. 

MVP is proposing a pipeline running from its main line in Pittsylvania County, Virginia, through the Berry Hill industrial park near the Virginia/North Carolina border, and into Rockingham County in North Carolina. The proposed route would make a sharp southeastern turn north of Reidsville, and eventually run into Alamance County through the Altamahaw area. The Southgate extension pipeline would eventually end in the Graham/Haw River area. 

A contingent of MVP representatives, wearing ubiquitous MVP-emblazoned navy blue polos, were stationed throughout the building during the open house. Onhand, there were also representatives of FERC, the Federal Environmental Regulatory Commission, which is responsible for permitting the proposed project. 

Each station dealt with a specific component of the project, from proposed routes, to environmental impact statements, to the safety of natural gas pipelines, to survey activities, to compressor stations, to proposed construction timelines, to an overview of the whole project. 

In addition, there were computers with specific local properties, in which landowners could ask direct questions about the potential impact the MVP Southgate extension would have on their land. 

Numerous landowners that could potentially be affected by the pipeline’s construction made their way to the Palladium to ask hard questions, and to voice their displeasure with the plans. 

One affected couple - Perry and Danny Slade - wore grey T-shirts with “MVP Southgate Pipeline” crossed out in red on the back. Outside the Palladium was a group of tables set up by opponents of the pipeline. 

Advocates of keeping the pipeline out of North Carolina, including Haw Riverkeeper Emily Sutton and Caroline Hansley of the Sierra Club, were talking with participants and providing information. 

Supporters of the MVP project indicate that the pipeline would generate an additional $1.3 million in ad valorem taxes annually for Alamance County. The construction process, according to MVP representatives, would provide approximately 2,300 temporary jobs in North Carolina. 

“Our objective is to make sure people have the facts about the project,” Shawn Day of Capital Results said. Capital Results is assisting MVP Southgate with public relations. “We expect to be here for decades. It can play an important part in the county’s development.” 

One of the biggest points of contention with local residents is the fact that a surveying company - Doyle Land Services - has been coming onto properties to conduct preemptive surveys. Critics say that Doyle Land Services is an unlicensed company in North Carolina, doing illegal work. 

Proponents of the pipeline say the surveys are necessary to avoid potential hindrances to construction. 

“We’re trying to avoid residential communities, which is why (MVP has submitted) requests for survey access,” said MVP representative Rob Skinn.Skinn explained that PSNC Energy is a potential customer for the MVP Southgate extension, purchasing approximately 300 million cubic feet of natural gas daily. 

“They’re in the permitting process right now. But under state law, they have the right to enter someone’s property - with notice,” Alamance County attorney Clyde Albright said in regards to the surveys. “They write a letter to the landowner. They can go on the property and do a preliminary survey, do a soil boring. If they damage the person’s property, they have to pay for it. But they do have that power of eminent domain.” 

At the end of the day, whether or not the pipeline will get constructed comes down to whether or not FERC determines the pipeline is necessary for the public use. 

“The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has jurisdiction over this,” Albright explained. “They are the ones that permit pipelines. They permitted the Mountain Valley Pipeline in West Virginia and Virginia. In Chatham, Virginia, they have a huge pumping station.”

“The issue is one of public necessity. That’s the test,” Albright added. “And that’s what the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission assesses. They balance the need - the consumer’s need - along with the necessity of putting the pipeline in. If there’s an existing pipeline, that could be one of the factors. There are some cases that talk about private condemnation. They all rest on this public necessity issue.”

Supporters of the proposed pipeline indicate that there is a public need and demand for the project, and that additional natural gas in the region would lower fuel costs.  

“This is such a fast-growing region,” Skinn said.

Day explained how a mill company in the region was forced into temporary layoffs and shut off orders because of spikes and shortages in the natural gas supply. He added that approximately 40 percent of the households in Alamance County currently use natural gas.

Naturally, the affected homeowners are turned off by the idea that the MVP pipeline is a necessity for the public. A couple of them came before the Alamance County Commissioners at their June 18 session. 

“This is a project that will not benefit any residents of Alamance County. But instead, will try to use unwilling Alamance County residents’ land to make billions,” Daniel Bollinger said. “Sure, MVP will paint this project to be all rainbows and sunshine. But it is wrong on so many fronts.”

“From property rights, to environmental consequences, to safety hazards, we will bear the burden of this mega-corporation in our county. Our property values will decrease. Our families will be endangered. Our natural resources will be jeopardized. And our land will be rendered useless.”

“The use of eminent domain for the purpose of private gain is inappropriate and abusive,” Bollinger continued. “There is no documented need for additional pipelines in North Carolina. But know that all of us will be paying for this, if this pipe goes into the ground. The investors for this project are guaranteed a hefty 14 percent rate of return, that will be passed along to all consumers, even if not one ounce of gas flows ships through that pipe.”

“They were notified by myself, and many neighbors, not to come on our property, but did anyway. This is government-authorized theft, for the benefit of corporations who think they are bigger than government, and its citizens,” Bollinger continued. “I’m asking that the Commissioners stand with us in this fight, for the good of our county and its citizens.” 

Michael Wallace explained that he and his wife purchased 42 acres of land in Alamance County five years ago, with the vision of building a home and a place for their children to build homes. 

Their property already has a gas main running through it. If MVP has its way, a second, parallel-running pipeline will be directly beside it by 2020.  

“We just finished our home in February,” Wallace said. “Three months after moving in, we received a letter from MVP advising us that they were considering expanding an additional gas main. We already have a gas main. They were gonna put another one running parallel to an existing 36-inch gas main. I think that’s important to remember.” 

“After speaking with the previous owner of our property, he walked me through some steps on how the initial gas pipeline was put in place. They essentially said, ‘We’re coming. There’s not much you can do.’ Eminent domain,” Wallace continued. “This easement that this gas line is going on, you can’t build, bury - you can’t even put a septic system on it. Several of my neighbors and I are affected. If my calculations are right, on my road alone, 23 acres are affected. Six of it being ours.”

“This is not necessary to the public,” Wallace continued. “This is a blatant attempt to install a line capable of distributing gas to customers nowhere near North Carolina. It’s also an attempt by MVP to deceive the people of Alamance County into believing this line will convey natural gas, and help create a competitive atmosphere where consumers will benefit.” 

“I believe that MVP has deceived the people of West Virginia and Virginia, and are setting their sights on North Carolina. We, unfortunately, will suffer huge losses in this process. They will profit billions. We will lose thousands. And they will move on to the next rural community and do the same thing. It’s not fair. We need your support.”

The filling process with FERC began in April. If the public need is established for the MVP Southgate extension, construction could begin as soon as the first quarter of 2020, with natural gas flowing through the pipeline by year’s end. The construction process would include tree falling, removal of debris, trenching, stringing of the pipe, and then welding the pipe pieces together.