Suffolk

Suffolk gives Atlantic Coast Pipeline permission to build through city

Opponents vow to continue to fight the project

SUFFOLK, Va. (WAVY) -- A victory for supporters of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline came Wednesday night as Suffolk's City Council gave the project permission to build and operate within the city limits. 

The 600-mile-long natural gas pipeline running from West Virginia to North Carolina will pass under 30 City of Suffolk roadways and two other former railroad rights of way, a deputy city manager said in front of council. 

The 40-year, $50,000 license agreement between the city and Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC., requires the developer to return all properties to the way they appeared prior to construction and keep the installed infrastructure in good working order at all times. 

The project has been surrounded by controversy since the beginning, and council approved the measure 5-0, with Vice-Mayor Leroy Bennett, Councilman Timothy Johnson and Councilman Michael Duman abstaining due to conflict of interest. All three said they own stock in Dominion Energy, one of four companies building the project. 

Developers say it will boost the economy, create jobs and help utilities transition away from coal. 

However, protesters who spoke at the meeting warn of environmental concerns.

"They are not thinking about 10 years down the line, 20 years down the line," said Kim Williams of Norfolk. "What is going to be left of the planet?"

Speakers like Paulette Johnson have a more personal stake in the issue. It is slated to run through her Suffolk property and she is worried after seeing explosions in similar projects in the past.

"Please consider us the land owners and the citizens of Suffolk," Johnson said before council. 

Max Bartholomew, Jr. with Dominion Energy insisted the project is being done with safety in mind. 

"There are rigorous state testing protocols with extensive inspections and the pipeline will be monitored 24/7, 365 from our state-of-the-art natural gas control center," Bartholomew said.

He argued the pipeline is necessary to keep up with the demand for energy. He pointed to interruptions in service for the U.S. Navy during the "polar vortex" a few years back, because of current natural gas infrastructure.

It is a point Navy veteran and Councilman Roger Fawcett certainly agreed with.

"We are not going to do it by wind turbines, we are not going to it by solar panels to heat and provide these vessels and these military personnel at these different facilities, what they will need to be ready to go," Fawcett said. "I have had not one constituent call me with concern about this pipeline." 

The project director, Colin Owens, told council the only permit still being waited on is one for Erosion and Sediment Control permit from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. A stop work order had recently been lifted over an issue with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 

Construction could begin next year. 


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