Part One: Huge Mid-Atlantic Gas Pipeline Threads Under Black Communities

The 600-mile underground Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) is  designed, according to its supporters, to expand the supply of natural gas, lower costs and supply employment to  the Mid-Atlantic region.

Originating in West Virginia, it travels through Virginia, eastward to  a “connector” in Hampton Roads in  Norfolk which will be extended in Chesapeake,  and then continue on to  North Carolina, ending in Robeson County.

The ACP is a corporate marriage of utility giant, Dominion Power, the main investor; Duke Energy of North Carolina; Piedmont Natural Gas; and the Southern Gas Company, owner of  Virginia Natural Gas (VNG).

It is being buried in stretches of uninhabited spaces in rural areas or near locales  of varying size.

The project has encountered resistance from  landowners and environmentalists out in West Virginia, and now locally, by some who fear the reduction of private property value, the degradation of wetlands, and the pollution of drinking water.

Developers of the ACP,  some of the most powerful  utility companies in Virginia, have  succeeded in financially, legally and legislatively developing the  project to its current status.

One effective weapon has been the use of eminent domain, according to environmental activists and politicians who have been summoned to help residents fight the ACP. This has allowed the acquiring of private and public land for public use, despite any resistance from residents affected.

The East Coast Connector consists of nine miles of  the ACP  being built through Hampton Roads, specifically Norfolk, Chesapeake and Suffolk.

Most of the  connector is being built along public roads and near private property where some of the poorest and most economically disadvantaged Black people live.

Civil and environmental activists call it a good example of environmental racism and disrespect for  the physical or political position  of Black people. Supporters disagree.

Today part of the  ACP Connector,  with the  permission of city officials, is being built under four miles of road and open space in Norfolk to connect it to  the main part of the ACP in  Chesapeake.

Joshua Baker is a lawyer with  Waldo and Lyle, a legal firm specializing in  public-private land disputes. He represents  Black residents in Chesapeake seeking to deter the ACP from being built near their homes.

Baker said a slice of the ACP Connector starts at a VNG  pumping station at the corner of  Salter and  the 200 block of East  Virginia Beach Blvd.

It runs eastward down Virginia Beach Blvd., then west on Tidewater Drive, crossing Brambleton, then across Tidewater Drive to vacant land near Ruffner Middle School.

Then  it will run  to Harbor Park,   under the Elizabeth River to Campostella Road then to Berkley along Liberty Street to the Chesapeake City line.

At the  intersection of  Salter  and the  200 block of Virginia Beach Blvd. is Young Terrace Public  Housing Community; then Calvert Square,  another public housing community, for four blocks. Then  it takes a right down Tidewater Drive, past three more blocks of Calvert Square Public Housing Community, and  cross Brambleton.

It then runs past  Tidewater Gardens Public Housing Community and its elementary school before crossing the street southward, near the Hunton YMCA to a stretch of vacant land near  Ruffner and then to Harbor Park.

These densely populated  communities are  populated with poor and working class Black people.

Once it reaches the Chesapeake City  line the pipline is slated to be pushed through Sunrise Hill, Providence Square, Georgetown, and Holly Glen Communities.

Again, communities  inhabited mostly by Black people; however, in this case, mostly middle income.

Except for the noise and traffic snarls near their homes, the construction of the ACP has gone virtually unnoticed by residents living in downtown Norfolk.

It has generated some concern in Berkley as it rips off land near First Baptist Church Berkley, a Historically Black Congregation on Liberty Street.

But the folks in Chesapeake  have formed “Georgetown Neighbors Against The Pipeline (GNATP) comprised of Sunrise Hill, Providence Square, then Georgetown, and Holly Glen residents.

Jim Hampton,  the leader of GNATP, who has lived in  Georgetown for 30 years,  is a retired Army Colonel.

Hampton said GNATP, for the past eight months, has been  waging an effort to stop the connector from being constructed through their  communities, starting in April 2017.

GNATP  met with ACP representatives,    notably from VNG, he said, at Bethel Baptist Church  on Campostella Road as part of a community effort  to educate GNATP members.

According to Hampton, who lives  in Georgetown Point,  VNG officials gave a    presentation on the ACP, and  showed  how a 24-inch gas pipeline would be  laid near their homes.

“They acted like it was a done deal,” said Hampton.  “I and others who attended that meeting at Bethel told them this was unacceptable and we would fight to stop it. We asked how  could they  run  a pipeline carrying gas, which was dangerous through such  densely populated communities.”

The VNG representative at the meeting told   GNATP members   that the project would be safe and would be inspected for problems periodically.

“But we were skeptical,” said Hampton. “Not only will it lower property values, if there is a leak, what about the blast zone which could cause damage to homes and people?”

Joshua Baker, a lawyer from Waldo and Lyles  in Norfolk, said the GNATP fight is taking two fronts: a complaint/petition  filed with the State Corporation Commission which could schedule a hearing to allow GNATP to make its case.

Baker said he is poised to pursue legal action.

Hampton  said the residents in the communities have held periodic meetings, staged  protest rallies,  approached city officials, and are hoping for positive outcomes from the SCC and the courts.

“This an obvious case of environmental racism,” said Hampton. “If this were an all-White neighborhood they would not think about running that pipeline through this community.”

The pipeline  won support of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the U.S. Forest Service and is under review by the Army Corps of Engineers.

West Virginia regulators have raised no roadblocks, but North Carolina’s environmental agency has pushed the pipeline developers for more information.

According to the ACP website, “More than 6,000 miles of potential routes were carefully studied before choosing the 600-mile route. After consulting with landowners and performing extensive field surveys, more than 300 additional route adjustments were made to avoid environmentally sensitive areas and address individual landowner concerns. This thorough and exhaustive process significantly reduced the environmental impacts of the project and minimized its impact on individual landowners.”

Hampton said with the exception of that meeting at Bethel last April, GNATP has had little interact with the ACP representatives and  has had little input into where it will be built and how.

According to  State Senator Lionell Spruill, who supports GNATP, the General Assembly has no legislative answers for people resisting the ACP at this point in time.

He said if the construction of the pipeline is not  stopped by legal action at  Sunrise Hill, then the residents in Georgetown, where he resides, and Holly Glenn may be hard pressed to stop it.

Hampton said the GNATP was disappointed that  the Chesapeake Circuit Court decided against two residents of Sunrise Hill who sought to deter the ACP through their community.

Spruill said the case will be appealed, and he supports the landowners.

To complicate matters and give ACP leverage, according to Spruill, owners of the privately owned  Holly Point Apartment Development, sitting near the other two communities, have accepted compensation to allow the project to go though that community of rental residents.

Ethel Mitchell a member of the “Georgetown Neighbors  Against The Pipeline,”  and her husband moved to Georgetown in 1976, as middle income Blacks were moving  in and Whites were exiting.

Mitchell,   who worked as an educator and administrator  in the Chesapeake School Division for 30 years,  asked  “If you were told that a gas pipeline was planned for your neighborhood what would you do?”

Hampton and Mitchell say that  GNATP  has reached out to Chesapeake City Council members who said they had no legal or legislative options,

“The utilities  have been planning this project for two years,” said Mitchell, “and the city knew before they first met with  us in April of 2017.  We asked them why they want to bring it through our community. They said it would be cheaper.  But we think  they could find alternate route.”

Councilwoman Ella Ward  told the GUIDE, “Despite the fact  that I am deeply concerned about the issues related to the pipeline,  the project was approved by federal authorities and the state.” She said the city had no regulatory authority of where it will be laid.

Hampton said last year, members of his group  met with former Mayor Allen Krasnoff,  ACP representatives  and Sen. Spruill.

“Well, the mayor asked them (the utility representatives)  if they could use an easement route owned by the city and not Dominion Power,” said Hampton. “They said they would consider the mayor’s positions and get back with us. That was weeks ago and we have not heard from them at all.  But if we see any sign of them starting construction in our community, we  are going to protest it.”

By Leonard E. Colvin

Chief Reporter

Web Staff

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