Billy Davies

Billy Davies, the community outreach coordinator for the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club, speaks into a microphone while a court reporter types and a FERC representative takes notes during the community comment session on Tuesday night

CHATHAM — Sitting at a fold-up table in the middle of a decorated hallway at the Olde Dominion Agricultural Complex, Robert Pollok read from a notepad and spoke to the audio recorders in front of him, while a woman sitting behind him took notes. Headphones attached to the audio recorders covered the ears of a court reporter — sitting directly in front of Pollok — who stared at his phone.

A Pittsylvania County seed farmer, Pollok presents his concerns about the Mountain Valley Pipeline Southgate project. The project will cross some of his land, but after repeatedly asking, Pollok still doesn’t know how much of his land or what the compensation will be.

“I just have more questions than I have answers,” he said.

Pollok was one of 23 community members who voiced their concern about the Southgate Project — a proposed pipeline that would transport natural gas from northern West Virginia to central North Carolina — at a public comment session hosted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Tuesday night.

This project would extend about 73 miles through Pittsylvania County as well as Rockingham and Alamance counties in North Carolina. It also would include four interconnects operated by Mountain Valley, East Tennessee Gas, and Dominion Energy.

In addition to the underground pipeline itself, a nearly 29,000 horsepower compressor station would be installed near the Banister River to the northeast of Chatham in Pittsylvania County.

People presented their requests to a court reporter and a FERC representative in three minute time-slots.

Amanda Mardiney, the commission’s Southgate project manager, said they conduct these comment sessions instead of a town hall for efficiency and to prevent it from becoming a unruly or just a debate.

“It’s more productive for us,” she said.

Not everyone thinks the one-on-one setting is beneficial. William Davies, the community outreach coordinator for the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club, said the process can be intimidating, off-putting, and cause a chilling effect.

“I disagree that this is how you ensure public involvement in a meaningful government process,” he said.

Originally from Pittsylvania County but now a teacher at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Pamela Turner comes back to the county frequently and still considers it her roots. While she is glad to have the one-on-one comment time, she wishes FERC would host some public hearings.

Shawn Day, a spokesperson from MVP Southgate, said that the PSNC Energy, a local distribution company that is part of Dominion Virginia Power, has added 100,000 new customers in the past decade and has shown the State Utility Commission this pipeline is the best way to provide natural gas for their customers.

The Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club, Dan River Keeper and several other organizations set up tables and provided information for people coming to the comment session. Verbal opponents of the Southgate Project presented varying reasons for opposing it.

Steven Pulliam, who works with Dan River Keeper, is concerned with the environmental impact this project could have on wildlife — including several endangered species unique to these counties — the risk of explosions, and the amount of waterways in the county.

“[FERC] really minimize the impacts of sedimentation in their drafts,” he said.

A candidate for the District 14 seat in the Virginia House of Delegates, Eric Stamps attended to voice his opposition to the Southgate Project for reasons such as climate change.

“We need to start transitioning away from pipelines. ... It’s time to transition to green energy,” he said.

Through the comment sessions they have conducted so far, Mardiney said a lot of people are concerned about water, erosion control, and the need for the project in the first place.

During her session, Turner expressed eco-psychological and terra-psychological concerns about the Southgate project.

“What happens to the land happens to us,” she said.

Mark Joyner, founder and project director for the Association for the Study of Archaeological Properties, said the line of disturbance — or the adjacent land they will need for the construction process — barely will avoid a historic house in Little Cherrystone from the 1700s, and likely will interfere with the nearby cemetery, both of which are historic sites on the Virginia and National Historic Registers.

In their Draft Environmental Impact Statement, FERC said their recommendations and Mountain Valley’s proposed mitigation efforts would minimize environmental impact.

“The construction and operation of the Project would result in limited adverse environmental impacts,” the draft stated.

“The DEIS is a best case, fairy tale scenario,” Pulliam said.

The last day for comments to be considered is Sept. 16, and the final draft of the environmental impact statement should be released sometime in Dec. 2019.

Since MVP first announced the Southgate project in April 2018, they have made more than 1,000 adjustments to the proposed route, Day said.

Ayers reports for the Register & Bee. Reach him at (434) 791-7981.

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Ayers reports for the Register & Bee. Reach him at (434) 791-7981.

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