Commissioners choke on pipeline, but will fix error

The Robeson County Board of Commissioners on Monday blew a wide-open slam dunk, a miss that could have major ramifications for this county’s economic well-being — except we know the board will fix it on the first Monday in August.

That will limit the damage to simply embarrassment.

The commissioners, after hearing the Rev. Mac Legerton drone on against the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, choked when asked to approve a conditional-use permit the pipeline’s owners need to place a monitoring station near Pembroke and to erect a 350-foot-tall cell phone tower. The commissioners followed their own protocol and deferred to Noah Woods, whose district the site is in, and he seemed equally confused and motioned that the decision be delayed, which it was unanimously, with Commissioner David Edge sharing none of the blame as he was absent.

Legerton hijacked the hearing, which was supposed to be about the conditional-use permit, and turned it into a referendum on the worthiness of the pipeline, a debate that has already been had. The pipeline, which has a resolution of support from the county commissioners and other local municpalities, is simply awaiting federal regulatory approval, which should happen before the Earth completes its current lap around the sun.

Public hearings have already been held, but Legerton wants more of them provided by the county, presumably taken into neighborhoods.

Legerton appears prompted by the Rev. William Barber, the head of the state NAACP, and Jim Warren, the head of the climate-focused nonprofit NC WARN, who last month came out in opposition of the pipeline, noting that it is being routed from West Virginia southeast through Eastern North Carolina, where many folks are poor, uninformed and less likely to raise placards.

And also in need of jobs.

Had the pipeline been routed through more affluent parts of the state, where jobs are plentiful, then that would have been criticized as well.

Legerton expressed concerns about methane contained in natural gas, which can kill if inhaled, and also suggested that all that natural gas line huddled together, should the worst occur, might blow up Robeson County. He continues to make that case in a letter-to-the-editor on this page. That threat, if taken seriously, already exists as there are natural gas lines buried throughout the county.

As executive director of the Center of Community Action, an organization that has a mission of taking on poverty and correcting social injustice, Legerton is fully aware of the dearth of good-playing jobs in Robeson County, which is the No. 1 reason Robeson ranks among the poorest counties not in the region, not in Southeastern North Carolina, not in North Carolina, not in the Southeast, but in all of the country — a problem that the pipeline is expected to mitigate to some degree.

Business and industry like easy access to natural gas because it is relatively cheap and a cleaner burning fossil fuel than is coal, so jobs will attach themselves to the pipeline. Robeson County also stands to benefit from an estimated $700,000 in taxes paid yearly on infrastructure, money that can go to work for residents; it should be noted that the pipeline will require little in the way of county services.

Legerton made reference more than once while speaking to the commissioners about “white rich men” who stand to profit off the pipeline. We aren’t sure who these white rich men are, but if the pipeline produces the jobs that are predicted, then a lot of people of color and both sexes would profit as well by going to work.

We believe local residents worry more about finding jobs to support themselves and their loved ones than an apocalyptic natural gas line explosion that will flatten the county.

The commissioners, when they awaken from their funk, will realize this as well and undo the damage. The date to circle is Aug. 7.