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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.”

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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.”

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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

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