Pipeline protested at meeting

Published 9:33 pm Friday, February 17, 2017

Dozens of activists from a variety of environmental groups protested the Atlantic Coast Pipeline on Thursday at a planned public input session in Suffolk.

The session was held by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission at the Hilton Garden Inn Suffolk Riverfront to receive public comment on a draft environmental impact study for the pipeline.

At least two dozen protestors stood outside before the meeting began with banners, receiving plenty of honks from passersby.

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“We’re here to support the local community,” said Natalie Steinberg, a member of the Student Environmental Action Coalition at the College of William and Mary. “This pipeline will affect a large part of Virginia. We’re in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. It would negatively affect the environment, vulnerable species and our drinking water.”

She said the pipeline would increase emissions and cut through scenic areas of Virginia.

“The pipeline is going through a vulnerable area where the economy is based on tourism,” she said, naming the Appalachian Trail and the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is a 550-mile-long, $4.5-billion project 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. About 33 miles of the pipeline is expected to run through Suffolk.

The pipeline is a partnership among four energy companies: Dominion, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and Southern Company Gas.

Zach Jarjoura, conservation program manager for the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club, was also among the protestors. He said the group was protesting the closed nature of the public hearing as well as the pipeline itself. The Sierra Club wanted to rent a hospitality room but was prevented from doing so, he said.

“We see this as a threat to the future,” he said. “Carbon emissions would double.”

He said the organization would love to see Dominion invest more in resources like offshore wind.

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline, for its part, says natural glass is the cleanest fossil fuel and produces less carbon dioxide than oil or coal.

Several people at the meeting expressed dismay with the process. Nobody at the meeting was permitted to hear others’ comments. Instead, those hoping to comment took a number and then sat down one-on-one and had their comments transcribed by a court reporter. Written comments were also accepted.

“This is not a public hearing,” said Jeanette Spreemann, protesting the format of the hearing.

Becky Smith was at the hearing with her brother and sister-in-law, Charles and Carolyn Daughtrey. Smith said the pipeline is set to come through her brother’s 148-acre property on Pioneer Road, cutting off a corner of the property and reducing its value.

“It takes the value of the property down quite a bit,” she said.

Not everyone at the meeting was against the pipeline, although since comments were not open to the public, it’s impossible to know about how many were for and how many were against.

Charles Shotton said he supports the pipeline because it will support economic development.

“It can’t do anything but benefit this area. I’m all for economic development. You can’t have economic development if you don’t get this gas pipeline,” he said.

Robert Johnson, of Johnson and Sons Seafood in Eclipse, came out to the meeting with one concern: whether the sections of pipe laid under local waterways would be laid in a trench or bored underneath the waterway.

His concern was allayed to his satisfaction: an official told him they would be directly bored.

“If they want to open-trench it, the turbidity is detrimental to oysters,” he said. “I’m glad that will be a fight we don’t have to have.”

Protestors gathered in the hotel corridor outside the conference rooms, shouting slogans such as “Dump Dominion” and “No Fracking Way.”

Some of the protestors got kicked out of the meeting, they said outside. At least five Suffolk Police Department officers were present.

“There was a small disturbance that was resolved peacefully,” city spokeswoman Diana Klink said Friday of the police department’s involvement. “No arrests were made.”

Those who were not able to attend the meeting but still wish to submit comments can do so on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s website, www.ferc.gov, or by mailing them to Nathaniel J. Davis Sr., Deputy Secretary, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, 888 First St NE, Room 1A, Washington, DC 20426.

The deadline to submit comment in any format is April 6.