Major gas pipeline to come through Suffolk

Published 10:06 pm Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A proposed new natural gas pipeline will come through Suffolk to supply natural gas to Hampton Roads, a partnership that will construct the pipeline announced Tuesday.

Dominion and three other energy companies — Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and AGL Resources — hope to start construction as soon as 2016, according to a news release.

Robert Duvall, vice president of operations for Virginia Natural Gas, a subsidiary of AGL Resources, said the 550-mile-long, $4.5-billion project is needed to ensure customer demand in Hampton Roads is met.

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“We’re seeing a recovery in the economy,” Duvall said. “We’re seeing around 5,000 new customer additions per year, and we’re predicting that to continue at least into 2014 and 2015.”

A map shows the proposed route of the pipeline entering Suffolk in the southwest portion of the city south of U.S. Route 58, then running roughly parallel to 58 — although some distance away — until it approaches downtown. It swings south of downtown and then enters the northernmost area of the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, where it exits the city near Route 58 and heads to a distribution facility, currently planned to be an existing one in Chesapeake.

Landowners along the study corridor have already been notified, according to Dominion, and survey work has begun. About 70 percent of landowners along the entire project route have allowed surveyors onto their land already, Dominion said in a news release.

Jim Norvelle, a Dominion spokesman, said the venture still is “looking for the best route that has the least impact to the environment, historic and cultural resources.”

The natural gas supply will help power companies close down coal-fired power plants because of environmental regulations, Norvelle added.

He said the gas will be coming from the Marcellus shale gas fields in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. The full line will run from Harrison County, W.Va., to Robeson County, N.C., with a spur coming east from the Virginia/North Carolina state line through Hampton Roads.

Dominion will build and operate the Atlantic Coast Pipeline on behalf of the venture. It could be in operation by late 2018.

Reaction to Tuesday’s announcement was swift, with state politicians from both sides of the aisle praising it and environmental groups moving to denounce it.

“This project will bring clean, affordable and abundant energy to communities across Virginia, including Hampton Roads,” Sen. John Cosgrove, a Republican whose district includes part of Suffolk, said in a press release from Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s office. “I am eager to work with Governor McAuliffe, Dominion and AGL to see this project completed safely and responsibly, and to begin to realize the enormous jobs and economic growth potential that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline offers our great Commonwealth.”

Sen. Louise Lucas, a Democrat whose district also includes part of Suffolk, said in the same press release that she is “confident that this project can be completed in an environmentally safe manner that respects local concerns, and that all Virginians will benefit from the lasting jobs and economic impacts that it will bring to our commonwealth.”

Greg Buppert, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, said the pipeline would endanger Virginia forests, including the George Washington National Forest — known as “the GW” — in the Allegheny and Blue Ridge mountains.

“We urge the governor will keep his pledge to the citizens of the commonwealth to protect the GW, a treasured natural resource that hosts more than a million visitors annually and anchors a vital, agriculture and tourism-based economy for the Shenandoah Valley and surrounding communities,” Buppert wrote in a press release.

The Virginia League of Conservation Voters also expressed concern through a press release from Executive Director Michael Town.

“We are troubled that the governor would support the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a project that by many measures is of dubious value,” Town wrote. “Any forward-thinking plan should depend upon investments in renewable energy and efficiency rather than outmoded reliance on fossil fuels.”

A number of informal open houses are planned for the public to learn more about the project. The closest one to Suffolk will be at Paul D. Camp Community College’s Regional Workforce Development Center in Franklin, 100 N. College Drive, on Sept. 25. Landowners within the proposed study corridor should come from 5 to 6:30 p.m., with landowners and the general public between 6:30 and 8 p.m.