Protesters oppose Atlantic Coast Pipeline

Published 8:32 pm Wednesday, January 20, 2016

By James Miessler and Brian Williams

Capital News Service

A group of about 50 people rallied Tuesday to oppose private contractors coming onto their land to survey for utilities without landowners’ consent.

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The protestors, from six separate organizations, demanded legislators repeal the Wagner Act, a statute that allows companies like Dominion Virginia Power to survey on the land of private citizens without consent.

The practice is at the heart of recent protests regarding the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a natural gas pipeline being pressed by a consortium including Dominion.

The pipeline would stretch from West Virginia into North Carolina and would include a Hampton Roads spur through Suffolk.

“The statute that we want repealed hands private property to for-profit enterprises,” said Joanna Salidis, the president of Friends of Nelson County.

“I am here working to protect the property rights, rural heritage, economy and environment for all the citizens of Nelson County. Dominion’s proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline threatens all of those values.”

The House bill opposing the statute, HB 1118, is being spearheaded by Republican Del. Joseph R. Yost of Giles County, who says that even though citizens’ land is private property, the Wagner Act still grants natural gas companies access for surveying.

“If a natural gas company is interested in surveying your property, obviously they have to come and ask your permission,” said Yost. “You have the option of saying no to them, but then there’s a process in the section that we’re trying to repeal that allows them to do another notification process. They can then go through and eventually gain admission to your property to do the surveys. We’re trying to stop that.”

A different version of the bill failed last year.

“It’s always possible it could fail again,” Yost said. “It hasn’t come up in the committee yet. I’ve been talking to my colleagues to see where they stand on this and move forward. It will be discussed sometime in the next two weeks, I imagine.”

Protesters also questioned the economic benefit and environmental fallout a pipeline could bring.

“We think these are risky investments that leave the people of Virginia on the hook to pay for these pipelines — a $17-billion investment,” said Drew Gallagher, field organizer for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

“We need to be moving towards solar and wind. This would avoid the worst impact of climate change. Hampton Roads is second only to New Orleans in terms of vulnerability from sea level rise, and we are doing nothing about it.”

Aaron Ruby, Dominion Energy’s media relations manager, addressed the protesters’ concerns.

“While this project has generated broad support across Virginia, we understand some folks in the community have concerns,” Ruby said.

“Over the last 18 months, we’ve worked very hard to address those concerns by listening to the community and seeking their feedback on ways to improve the project. From the beginning, our goal has been to meet the urgent energy needs of public utilities in Virginia and North Carolina, while at the same time having a minimal impact on communities. We believe this project achieves both of these important goals, but we will continue working with everyone in the community to continuously improve the project.”