Though it will have no official say in what apparently will be first a business decision by Duke Energy, and then a mostly federal approval process, the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors became one of the first local governing bodies in the Northern Piedmont region Monday to say “no” to a natural-gas transmission line proposed by Spectra Energy.
Asked during the supervisors’ afternoon session to draft a resolution by its 7 p.m. meeting, County Administrator John McCarthy’s resolution was adopted unanimously by the board.
Among the reasons the resolution lists for opposing the 427-mile, potentially $4 billion project by the Texas-based pipeline company is the appearance “that Spectra Energy’s proposals were made with a woeful disregard for the presence of conservation easements in our county and for the land-use planning goals for the rural area of Rappahannock County.”
The pipeline route’s “study corridor” passes through the center of Rappahannock, close to but not aligned with the existing Dominion Power high-voltage transmission line. Both north and south of U.S. 211, it appears to pass through numerous properties whose owners have put their lands into conservation easements (including, according to a map created by the Piedmont Environmental Council last month, farmland owned by Stonewall-Hawthorne supervisor Chris Parrish).
It also notes that Rappahannock “depends upon the natural, unspoiled beauty of this county for its agricultural base and for the tourism that beauty generates and which together sustain a great portion of our local economy,” and urges Duke Energy not to choose Spectra’s bid.
Spectra’s proposed route is one of at least three north-to-south pipeline proposals being considered by the North Carolina-based Duke, which apparently issued the request for proposals this spring to bring fracked Marcellus shale natural gas from its western Pennsylvania epicenter into North Carolina, and possibly points further south.
“An alignment in Rappahannock County,” the resolution reads, “would harm the lives and livelihoods of its citizens.”
Record cold in the Southeast, utility regulatory changes and the boom in Appalachian shale gas created by such technologies as horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing — known as “fracking” — has created an increased demand for natural gas in the South and Southeast.
Duke’s request for proposals, according to County Attorney Peter Luke, quoting a conversation he had last week with Steve Tillman, Spectra’s director of federal government affairs in Washington, has resulted in three proposals so far — Spectra’s line through the center of Virginia; a 450-mile Dominion Resources route through West Virginia and the Virginia counties of Highland, Augusta, Nelson, Buckingham, Cumberland, Prince Edward, Nottoway, Dinwiddie, Brunswick and Greensville counties; and a third pipeline further west.
Luke said Tillman believed Duke’s decision on a winning bid would be made by the end of August.
Although the study corridor proposed by Spectra is wider — the company is still surveying, a process that requires landowner cooperation, to be able to narrow down its route — the actual pipeline corridor would be 100 feet wide, and an underground pipeline, with various above-ground monitoring and maintenance-related equipment.
“Agriculture is allowed on the pipeline right-of-way,” Luke said, “but anything requiring excavation is not — no building, no large trees.”
Parrish was the first to suggest at the supervisors’ afternoon session Monday that they consider a resolution on the pipeline — primarily to object to its passage through a county such as Rappahannock, where a high percentage of land has been “preserved forever” through conservation easements, or on a less-permanent scale through agricultural and forestry land-use tax incentives.
“I know it may not do any good,” he said, referring to a resolution, “but I wonder whether it would do any harm.”
“Property’s in easement,” said Hampton supervisor Bryant Lee, “you can’t build a house on it. But you can put a pipeline through it?”
Gas pipelines are regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC); an online FAQ on Spectra’s website said the company would also seek review by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and “appropriate agencies” of the states through which the pipeline would pass (Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina).
In Virginia, Spectra’s study route passes through the counties of Frederick, Warren, Fauquier, Rappahannock, Culpeper, Madison, Orange, Louisa, Fluvanna, Cumberland, Amelia, Nottaway, Lunenburg and Mecklenburg.