LUMBERTON — Although they previously passed a resolution supporting the construction of the 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline, Robeson County commissioners tonight voted to delay granting a conditional-use permit that would allow for the placement of a monitoring station and 350-foot-tall microwave cell tower in Pembroke.
All seven of the commissioners present voted at the recommendation of Commissioner Noah Woods that the permit not be denied but any action delayed until pubic hearings are held in Robeson County to educate the public about the proposed pipeline and its advantages and disadvantages. Commissioner David Edge was not present.
The commissioners made their decision after the Rev. Mac Legerton and Robie Goins, both members of the environmental group Eco-Robeson, pleaded with the commissioners to hold public meetings before approving the monitoring station and cell tower that would be constructed on N.C. 710, on 2.6 acres of a 17.608-acre tract owned by Piedmont Natural Gas Company Inc.
The proposed interstate natural gas transmission pipeline is to originate in Harrison County, West Virginia, and end at the site of the proposed monitoring station and cell tower. At the Pembroke site, the pipeline will interconnect with the existing Piedmont Natural gas line for further distribution of the natural gas.
Hal Kitchin, a Wilmington attorney representing Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC, a partnership consisting of subsidiaries of Dominion Resources, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and Southern Company, said that the pipeline has not yet been permitted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, but approval hopefully will come sometime this year.
Kitchin said that the utilities station would deliver the natural gas to Piedmont, as well as meter and regulate the flow. The cell tower would be used to monitor control, security and safety of the pipeline.
But despite repeated warnings from Patrick Pait, the county’s attorney, that discussion and comments should only address the station and cell tower, the hearing quickly escalated to the pros and cons of the entire proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
Legerton charged that county residents have not had the chance to express their opinions at public hearings held at the state or federal levels. He told the commissioners that to not hold a public hearing would go against what the county has always done when facing a major issue that affects the environment.
“I’m not saying deny the permit,” an emotional Legerton said. “I’m saying let’s vet, listen and learn before we do something. We know little of the dangers of this project.”
Legerton accused the utility companies of changing the route of the proposed pipeline so it goes away from the wealthier areas and instead passes through poverty areas and areas where people are not educated about the project.
Goins said that his family owns property adjacent to the site proposed for the station and tower and that it would be “an eyesore.”
“I don’t want this passing through my community,” he said.
Bo Biggs, a Lumberton businessman and supporter of the pipeline, said after the meeting that he can’t understand the commissioners’ logic in delaying the consideration of the conditional-use permit.
“The commissioners have endorsed the pipeline in a resolution,” he said. “What is the logic in endorsing the pipeline and than delaying it because of pressure from environmentalists.”
Bruce McKay, senior energy policy director of state and local affairs for Dominion Energy, said that his company will provide the commissioners with all of the information they request.
“This is the most thoroughly organized gathering of documentation for a project like this ever,” he said. “People have had ample time to have input into the process. Thousands have participated in the process since it began three years ago.”
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.