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Friends of Nelson: Pipeline would create 4,500-acre downzone area in Nelson County

pipelineIn a letter today addressed to the Nelson County Board of Supervisors, Friends of Nelson has asked that the board consider potential zoning and economic impacts from the possible construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

This week it has been revealed that that there is an “industry [effort] to create a ‘consultation planning zone’ which extends 660 feet from the center of any high pressure natural gas pipeline.” The purpose of the zone or corridor is to “restrict development” within those parameters for the “lifetime of the pipeline.”

Both the industry and the Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) have recommended that county governments restrict development through actions by county governing bodies.

This would create a 4500-acre area that would be highly restrictive of development: an area a quarter of a mile wide, stretching for over 23 miles and bisecting Nelson County from Reeds Gap to the James River.

It was noted this week that county commissioners in Wilson County (NC) have formally “expressed reservations on several issues related to the pipeline project and its officials Tuesday, including a “development dead zone” in Wilson County, full and complete disclosures and transparency in project planners’ dealings with property owners and the pipeline’s quality of construction and safety.”(ibid.)

“Having read most of the Pipeline Informed Planning Alliance (PIPA) Guidelines laid out by PHMSA, it’s clear that the expectation is that landowners along these corridors–approximately 3 and one half football fields in width, on either side of the pipeline–would be obligated to notify the pipeline owner of any land-disturbing activities in these corridors,” said Marilyn Shifflett of Friends of Nelson, who is co-author of the letter. “Owners considering construction or logging on ‘corridor properties’ would need to work with the ACP to ensure the safety and integrity of the pipeline.”

         

“In addition, developers would need to consider evacuation routes for residential developments when planning private roads. Localities failing to enact ordinances that take these guidelines into account face possible safety and liability concerns,” Ms. Shifflett continued.

A resolution passed by Wilson County commissioners states that ACP officials (have) “failed to inform property owners or local government” of their liabilities associated with the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

The resolution further noted that property owners within the dead zone have not been offered compensation for restrictions placed on their property outside of the construction and permanent easements. They say these types of development restrictions will severely and negatively affect the value of land and property owned by county residents.

The potential environmental and economic impacts to Nelson County have been documented by a 2016 economic study, commissioned by Friends of Nelson, which estimates total economic losses to Nelson County of up to $24.5 million dollars per year, with additional one-time costs of up to $41 million.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) makes no secret of the fact that “safety” is not among their concerns when approving pipeline permits and that this issue falls under the purview of local governments and PHMSA. Hence, siting the pipelines has little to do with hazard mitigation. Yet PHMSA guidance states that “placing people in proximity to existing transmission pipelines can increase their risks resulting from the unintentional release of products transported through the pipelines. Such releases can result from a variety of causes and may result in injuries or fatalities as well as property and environmental damage… land development in proximity to pipelines can increase such risk. “

PMHSA advises localities to place ”additional development regulations, standards or guidelines to ensure safety” on all property within 660’ of any natural gas pipeline.    They also state that the size of this Consultation Planning Zone should be adjusted depending on the operating pressure, pipe diameter and site-specific topography.

“Given that 660’ is only 60% of the 1100’ Potential Impact Radius (a/k/a the Blast Zone) for the 1440 psi, 42” pipeline ACP proposes to ram through Virginia, it seems to me that a prudent Consultation and Planning Zone in Nelson might actually be significantly larger than the basic 660’ feet,” said Joyce Burton of Friends of Nelson in the letter.  “Of course, that would mean that even more landowners will be negatively impacted if this behemoth is built — not only by the dangers of living next to a potentially explosive pipeline, but also by what could amount to a de facto downzoning of their properties.”

“The Pipeline Informed Planning Alliance was born from a push from the industry, and while careful not to “regulate” local boards and commissions, they do imply that liability at every step does not rest with the owners or users of the pipeline,” the letter concludes.

“The creation of planning zones and consultation zones that recommend that private property owners consult with pipeline operators whenever land disturbing activities are performed, will no doubt result in a reminder from the operator that if the pipeline is damaged or compromised, liability will rest with said landowner. They are clear that creation of these zones and ordinances to support the guidelines are not required. However, ignoring the recommendations puts liability squarely on the locality.”

 
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