FERC hears concerns on proposed Virginia Reliability Project 

Published 5:15 pm Tuesday, May 2, 2023

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Citizens and regional climate activists came out to voice their concerns on the Virgina Reliability Project during a public comment session in Chesapeake held by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The Wednesday, April 26 session allowed those interested in the project to share their thoughts with FERC officials on the project’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement. 

A 48-mile expansion project proposed by Columbia Gas Transmission LLC, a subsidiary of Canada-based TC Energy unaffiliated with Columbia Gas of Virginia, VRP is proposed to bring a new gas pipeline routed through the Hampton Roads and Southeast areas of Virginia, including the cities of Suffolk and Chesapeake, as well as Isle of Wight and Southampton counties. 

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FERC Division of Gas Outreach Coordinator David Hanobic explained the process.

“The purpose of tonight’s meeting is to take public comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement that our office produced to advise the commissioners on the environmental impacts of the proposed projects,” Hanobic said. “We’re here to hear from the public their comments on those documents so that we can take the Draft Environmental Impact Statement and then issue a final environmental impact statement that addresses the comments that we received on the draft.”

Hanobic said the agency’s job is to review the submitted proposals. 

“Our job is to review those and produce an environmental document in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act,” he said. “That’s what we have done so far, and we’re here taking comments on that document tonight.”

Chesapeake Climate Action Network Hampton Roads organizer Charles Brown II represented those opposing VRP 

Brown stressed the importance of making citizens aware of VRP.

“We’ve been doing a lot of outreach in the Hillpoint community of Suffolk,” he said. “As we’re knocking on doors to inform residents of the project, what we’re seeing time and time again is that a lot of them, don’t even know still, that it’s even being proposed.” 

Brown said the group’s stance is to make sure everyone is aware of this to allow them a chance to review all the facts and do their own research. 

“We feel like just getting the information, they’ll understand that this is a dangerous project that can affect communities, students, schools, the Great Dismal Swamp, the veteran’s cemetery in Suffolk, Nansemond tribe… and we don’t want it to happen,” he said. “It’s methane gas. That’s nothing to play or to take lightly.”

Sierra Club Virginia Chapter Program Manager Lynn Godfrey also addressed the importance of “process.”

“We want to make sure that the process is equitable, that the environmental justice community is being considered and that environmental justice extensive assessment report be conducted, that they consider climate change,” Godfrey said. “Why would you approve such a project in a climate crisis? And they’re not considering that when they have clear policy guidelines from the CEQ (Council on Environmental Quality) to do so.”

Finally, each person spoke what they hopes people attending the session will take away from it. 

Hanobic spoke from a FERC standpoint.

“A lot of it goes back to process,” Hanobic said. “We’re here tonight to receive comments on this document. We hope people will leave with an understanding on how to provide comments, to inform us as we prepare our final Environmental Impact Statement which then will be used by the commissioners at FERC to make a decision on the project – when we disclose those EIPs to those decision makers.”

Brown again stressed that all parties must have all the required information.

“Our chief concern is to really make sure that FERC has all the information, that the residents have all the information, that the conclusion becomes that this project does not need to move forward — on any level, in any capacity,” he said.

Despite the comment session, Godfrey noted the lack of FERC as a whole not providing a presentation or more engagement with the community.

“There is no presentation from FERC,” Godfrey said. “There is no engagement with this community, because this project is going to have some long lasting negative impacts on the environment here.” 

She questioned how the review is being handled.

“‘OK, we’re going to take your comment,” Godfrey said. “You’re going to go speak to a stenographer and then you’re going to leave. I mean, that’s not really meaningful engagement. So there’s the process again.”

All comments on the proposed project for the final EIS must be received by 5 p.m. EDT on June 5. For more information, go to www.ferc.gov.