WAKEFIELD, Va. (WAVY) — A Surry County farmer is concerned the Virginia Reliability Project will destroy his land and livelihood.
Michael Drewry owns Drewry Farms in Wakefield and his family has been farming here for generations.
“This is where my father was raised, and I didn’t want to see it get out of the family,” Drewry said.
Over the years, he and his wife Amy had to get creative to keep the farm with the changes in the economy and needs of the community.
“I enjoy this peacefulness and that’s the reason people come here,” he said. “They pay us to come here. Everything from camping to, we fixed up an old house on the farm where people can stay.”
Yet keeping his acres untouched has come with many challenges. Drewry became an attorney to fight for his farm.
“Remarkably since I’ve purchased it in 1990, I’ve had to fight a road realignment potentially coming through here, a railroad potentially coming through here,” Drewry said. “A coal plant being built about three or four miles away. This methane digester is being proposed. Now the pipeline is coming through here, it is exhausting. We don’t have many quiet and peaceful places in southeast Virginia and I’m fighting for some right here.”
The project plans to replace two sections of the Columbia Gas Transmission pipeline. Nearly 50-miles of pipe dating back to the 1950s will also be expanded from 12-inches to 24-inches. The new steel pipe will also have technology added with hopes to create a more reliable system to the Hampton Roads area, according the TC Energy website.
The pipeline project will go through Drewry’s’ Farm.
“I would have to shut my agritourism business down when they come in here and start this construction,” Drewry said. “I don’t know when that is. The timing of it or how much income it’s going to lose me.”
His farm is protected by an open-space easement with the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, which protects the stream, timber and forest through which the project is planned.
“To protect this place, we gave up hundreds of thousands of dollars in development potential,” Drewry said. “Then you find that they can just come through and double-widen the pipeline and cut access through it. The thing that is discouraging to me is that they don’t come and ask. It may sound minor to some people, but we enjoy the wildlife out here.
In March 2022, Martha Little, VOF Deputy Director of Stewardship, sent Secretary of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Kimberly Bose a letter explaining concerns with VRP, as the project intersects two VOF open-space easements in Surry County.
“VOF is concerned about the potential for impacts to these properties and their specific conservation values, especially if any proposed project work is to occur outside of the existing pipeline right-of-way on either open-space easement property.” Then in April 2023, Little sent John Fisher with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality a letter expressing similar concerns.
“It is our hope that full consideration be given to the importance of the open-space easement properties and their extensive conservation values which have been protected in perpetuity by VOF,” Little wrote.
Jason McGarvey, Virginia Outdoors Foundation communications manager, sent 10 On Your Side the two letters and a statement.
“We’re aware of the pipeline project and its potential crossing of two VOF easements,” McGarvey said. “We’re going through an administrative review of the project now and have not made any determinations.”
Sen. Tim Kaine believes all pipeline projects must follow a permitting process.
“I am a strong believer that before you take some bodies land for a pipeline,,” Kaine said, “there needs to be a very significant showing that a) the pipeline is necessary, b) that the route chosen is the best possible route and c) that the operator who is proposing to do it can be counted on to do it in a high-quality way.”
10 On Your Side received this statement from TC Energy Senior Media Relations Austin Staton:
“The Virginia Reliability Project is designed to replace two existing segments of the TCO Pipeline System to ensure continued reliable and abundant natural gas supply for the Hampton Roads region. We’ve safely provided energy to the region for more than 70 years and VRP will enable us to do so well into the future while furthering our commitment to the environment by installing innovative technology that will limit emissions and enable safety enhancements. As part of our long-standing commitment to the community, we have been working with landowners and others to mitigate and offset any potential impacts that are a part of the replacement project. We have knocked on thousands of doors and visited nearly 600 small and local businesses to share this information widely and will continue to do so.”
We encourage you to learn more about the project by visiting our dedicated webpage.Austin Staton, TC Energy senior media relations specialist, external relations
Drewry said there has been little communication on the project. He hopes the project is abandoned or more people continue to push back on the project.
“The thing that is discouraging to me is that they don’t come and ask,” Drewry said. “If they don’t abandon the project, I want them to listen and make some reasonable accommodations here. Use different methods so it’s not so destructive. I would like them to listen and be accommodating. For me and other people.”