With Atlantic Coast Pipeline facing setback, Suffolk landowner digs in for fight

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SUFFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — The Atlantic Coast Pipeline partners are trying to figure out how to please the court and get the 600-mile pipeline back on track.

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated a key permit for the pipeline. The permit deals with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and their failure to provide standards on how to enforce how many endangered species can be killed.

Suffolk landowner Buzz Upton is acting on behalf of his family and the 1,150 acres of land and marsh that have been in his family since just after 1894.  Upton fears losing peace of mind.

“The pipeline crosses here, and then cuts across the farm here,” he says while holding a big aerial picture of the land where the pipeline will pass.

Then you look down on the land and you can see wooden stakes where the pipeline will go about three feet under the surface of the land.  

On this day, Upton can’t help but think about his grandfather, Luther Jarvis Upton, who shortly after 1894 bought the land to plant crops, including potatoes. 

He thinks about his dad, too.

“The first thing they would do is kick me in my back side for letting it happen, and then they would say ‘do the best you can to protect whatever you can do for the family,'” Upton said.

You could see farm equipment in the distance working the land.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Proposed pipeline hits speed bump in Suffolk

Buzz has done all he can to fight off the pipeline, and thinks the recent court ruling dealing with endangered species like the Roanoke Logperch is only a temporary setback for the pipeline.  His attorney Josh Baker thinks so too.

“The Atlantic Coast Pipeline can not proceed with construction where they will affect those endangered species, but my feeling is this is more of a speed bump rather than a dead end,” Baker said. 

The court ruled the endangered species includes the Indiana and northern long-eared bats, Madison Cave isopod, the rusty patched bumble bee and the clubshell mussel. 

The court decided the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has failed to set a standard for the number that can be possibly killed by the project. 

“We feel confident we will be able to resolve the issue. We’ve spent four years studying this, including the impact on endangered species, so we just need more clarification going forward,” said Dominion Energy spokesperson Bonita Harris.

You can hear birds all the time on the property, and Upton’s concerned not only about land, but marsh too, “I’m not only concerned about the explosion, but also the contamination of the grasses, the deer, the bear, fish, ducks, geese and the migratory animals.”

The Upton family also has part of George Washington’s will, noting his part ownership of the land.

“I think about the canoes and the boats and the marsh, the land and how we hunted it, and farmed it.  It turns my stomach when I think about it, and they are pumping it out of West Virginia.”

Upton know’s Dominion Energy can come on his property, they’ll mediate a price, go to court if they must.

But for Buzz Upton, the only thing he wants is peace of mind that a natural gas pipeline doesn’t blow up on his family and his land. “I am the unicorn. I am the only one sitting in that room who gives a damn about the land. Everybody else in there is about the money.”

Upton sums it up this way. He and his family embrace the past, but the fight is about the future. 

10 On Your Side is still awaiting further clarification from the court, but this is likely to be a speed bump and not a dead end for the pipeline.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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