Mayors push for pipeline project

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FOUR OAKS — Johnston County leaders have signed on in support of a letter written by Garysburg Mayor Roy Bell released June 27 by Four Oaks Mayor Linwood Parker urging the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to allow construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to resume as soon as possible.

Co-signing the letter with Bell and Parker are four other mayors who lead communities along the pipeline’s proposed route — Smithfield’s Andy Moore, Selma’s Cheryl Oliver, Pembroke’s Greg Cummings and Roanoke Rapids’ Emery Doughtie.

Oliver said there are many valid reasons for supporting the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

“One of the key ones to me is that it will bring new industries to Selma, Johnston County and to eastern North Carolina. The Johnston County Economic Development Office regularly receives requests for information about our area from industries who are interested in locating here,” said Oliver. “ In these requests, the industries identify their needs and ask for feedback on how the county can meet those needs. The vast majority of the requests specify the need for natural gas.

“The pipeline can enable us to respond positively to those requests as well as requests from existing businesses who want to expand. The ability to attract new businesses and expand existing businesses will increase the number and variety of jobs available to our citizens, expand our tax base and improve the overall quality of life in our area,” said Oliver.

Johnston County Board of Commissioners Chairman Ted Godwin said when industries are seeking a site to relocate or expand, company executives consider many factors.

“Depending on their business, the availability of energy is one of the top concerns. Whether they need natural gas directly or reliable, affordable electricity that’s generated by gas, the proposed pipeline is the critical component in making that a reality here in eastern North Carolina and Johnston County,” said Godwin. “As far as risk to safety and environment, I see far less risks than what we all live with every day when fuel trucks leave our Selma terminal and travel our roadways.

“The pipeline will be located a short 8-iron shot from my back door on an adjacent farm. Large planes fly overhead every day and I don’t worry about one falling. Neither am I worried about the risks of an underground pipeline.”

The 600-mile underground Atlantic Coast Pipeline will originate in West Virginia and travel through Virginia with a lateral extending to Chesapeake and then continue south into eastern North Carolina, ending in Robeson County. The pipeline will run the length of Johnston County along Interstate 95.

Dominion Energy, a Richmond, Virginia-based power company, owns 48% of the pipeline. In North Carolina, the pipeline’s customers will include Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and Public Service Company of North Carolina, better known as PSNC.

Duke Energy will use the gas to generate electricity, while Piedmont Natural Gas will provide for heating and industrial operations.

The project has sparked opposition from environmental groups and property owners subject to eminent domain during the land acquisition process. It’s also divided local governments, as some communities along the pipeline’s route stand to see more potential economic benefit than others.

In October 2017, Wilson County commissioners passed a resolution expressing reservations, calling the pipeline’s 12-mile path through their community a “development dead zone” due to land use restrictions that accompany the underground pipe. Atlantic Coast Pipeline plans don’t include any taps to access the natural gas in Wilson County, while other communities will have access points.

The Johnston County Board of Commissioners and county economic development office, the towns of Selma and Four Oaks and the Triangle East and Four Oaks chambers of commerce have all formally endorsed the project.

Johnston County leaders continue to support the Atlantic Coast Pipeline despite the U.S. Court of Appeals’ Feb. 25 ruling denying permission for the pipeline to cross the Appalachian Trail in Virginia.

Seven federal permits required for pipeline construction are now in question and there is a major legal challenge to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s certificate of the project underway.

In August 2018, the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals rescinded two approvals permitting the pipeline, one from the Fish and Wildlife Service and another from the National Park Service regarding crossing the Blue Ridge Parkway.