Atlantic Coast Pipeline project gets cut off at pass
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline wasn’t slated to cross her berry farm and winery in Nelson County, Va., but Kimberly Pugh, along with many nearby farmers reliant on agritourism, hated the prospect of it regardless.
The $8 billion pipeline — which would have started in West Virginia and run at least through Virginia and North Carolina — was supposed to cross the entrance of a neighboring ski resort whose peaks can be seen from her operation.
Hill Top Berry Farm & Winery, which she owns with her husband, is part of a mountainous row of beer, wine and spirit operations along Route 151 that grew concerned when the pipeline crew began clearing trees at the ski resort’s entrance. Its route was also to cross the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway and the Appalachian Trail, both regional tourism drivers.
“All of us collectively along 151 felt like it would definitely have a negative impact on us because of tourism and the way it was going to look,” Pugh said.
Now, they’re celebrating the pipeline project’s collapse. Duke Energy and Dominion Energy announced they had pulled the plug on the project on July 5, citing uncertainties about costs, permitting and litigation.
“I for one am super happy that it’s not going to happen,” Pugh said. “We’re all happy about it.”
The announcement ended a six-year battle between the energy companies and local residents and environmentalists, including farmers who were angry the companies planned to condemn tracts of their land to construct the pipeline — even if it meant suing landowners who refused company surveyors access to their property.
“I’m sure (farmers) were pleased with it,” said Mark Campbell, senior district field services director at the Virginia Farm Bureau. “I think that would be the overwhelming reaction.”
The pipeline was publicly announced in September 2014. Lead developer Dominion poured time and resources into an influence campaign involving direct mail, community meetings, ads and social media campaigns along the pipeline’s route. The company also gave $2 million in grants in communities affected by the pipeline, something Dominion described as a separate “charity” effort.
Getting the project built would have involved tree removal and blasting and leveling some ridgetops as the pipe, 42 inches in diameter for much of its path, crossed mountains, hundreds of water bodies and other sensitive terrain and burrowed underneath the Appalachian Trail. Dominion and Duke said in their announcement that a key reason they were abandoning the pipeline was a decision by a Montana judge in a case over the Keystone XL that would potentially keep the ACP tied up in court too.
In the Keystone case, an April ruling from a federal judge dealing with a type of permit used to approve oil and gas pipelines and other utility work through wetlands and streams had threatened to delay not just that project but more than 70 other pipelines across the U.S. and add as much as $2 billion in costs, according to industry representatives.
“It is a bit shocking, but it underscores the growing challenges and the escalating cost when it comes to constructing new pipeline capacity,” said Rich Redash, head of global gas planning at S&P Global Platts, of the pipeline cancellation.
U.S. Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette laid blame at the feet of the “well-funded, obstructionist environmental lobby” that he said had killed the project. Prominent conservation groups including the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council and SELC did fight the pipeline, but the effort also included smaller, grassroots organizations, including more than 50 in Virginia and West Virginia that banded together to form the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance.
Several farmers who protested the project spoke with the Delmarva Farmer in 2015 shortly after the project was announced. At the time, Dominion Energy wanted access to Ridgely Harrison’s goat and sheep farm in Shipman where it hoped to negotiate an easement to bury the pipeline.
“I told them I wouldn’t take $4 million for the thing,” she said at the time. “It doesn’t work for my business.”
The pipeline plan was eventually rerouted. In mostly rural Halifax County, N.C., Valerie Williams and her son spent years trying to keep the ACP off the more than 100-acre family farm they jointly own. She called the pipeline cancelation “a miracle.”
Purchased by her grandparents in 1916, the farm has provided food, recreation, shelter and protection to her family during the years of segregation, Williams said. She promised her late father she would never let it be split up.
“That was my drive, my total drive: defense of our heritage, our history, our tradition, our memory, because the farm really is the family tree,” she said.
(Editor’s note: The Associated Press contributed to this article.)
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