BUCKINGHAM — Buckingham County planners have endorsed a zoning permit for a natural gas compressor station to serve the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline as it slices through the heart of Virginia.
The Planning Commission vote on Monday night to recommend approval of a special-use permit for the station will move the intensifying public battle over the project to the Board of Supervisors to settle.
The vote was 7-0 with one abstention. Supervisor Representative Danny R. Allen abstained because he is a Dominion employee.
Aaron Ruby, a spokesman for the pipeline company, commended the commission on its vote. “We appreciate the thoughtful, deliberative way the commission went about its work,” Ruby said.
The recommendation includes 40 conditions on the proposed permit. “It’s very important to send these forward and let your elected officials make the decision,” Commissioner Chet W. Maxey said before the vote.
Opponents chanted as people left the meeting room, “People gonna rise like the water, gonna shut this pipeline down!”
The vote came less than a week after the announcement of an agreement in principle to allow Kyanite Mining Corp., the largest private employer in Buckingham, to receive natural gas from the proposed pipeline through a tap by Columbia Gas of Virginia.
Opponents questioned whether the announcement of the pending deal was timed to influence the commission’s recommendation on the compressor station permit, but the Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC, led by Richmond-based Dominion, insisted that it was not.
“What we’re feeling is it gives the appearance of interference in the political process,” said Lakshmi Fjord, on behalf of Friends of Buckingham.
Fjord said Kyanite is justified in seeking access to natural gas, but questioned why the company and Columbia had not tapped the existing natural gas pipeline operated by Williams Transco, but instead had reached an agreement “right before the vote” on the compressor station permit.
Columbia holds the gas distribution franchise in Buckingham, but the company serves only one customer in the county — the Bear Garden power plant that Dominion Virginia Power operates just south of the James River, using a lateral line from the Transco pipeline.
Fjord was among 15 people and organizations to speak against the permit before the vote on Monday night.
Douglas Ange was the only resident to speak in support of the project, which he said would help generate jobs, especially for young people in Buckingham.
“I’m tired of seeing nothing but tail lights leaving town, all our young people,” Ange said.
The station would house four natural-gas fired turbines on a 68-acre parcel along state Route 56 in western Buckingham, where the proposed new interstate pipeline would intersect with the Transco Pipeline.
The proposed station in the Union Hill area, a predominantly African-American community, is one of three proposed to maintain pressure in the 600-mile pipeline proposed from the Marcellus shale fields in West Virginia to Southeastern Virginia and eastern North Carolina.
The proposed Buckingham station would allow the new pipeline to move natural gas to and from the Transco line, which extends up the East Coast from the Gulf of Mexico.
Opponents said existing pipelines have capacity to meet current and future needs for natural gas, including those of two new power plants that Dominion Virginia Power has opened or begun to build in Southside Virginia.
In endorsing the permit, the planning commission rejected arguments by opponents that the compressor station is not a public utility project that could be allowed in an agriculturally zoned district, but instead a gas transmission facility that could be permitted in an area zoned for heavy industry.
However, the commission attached 40 conditions to its recommendation of approval, including limitations on noise, lighting, site layout, and air pollution controls, subject to state environmental permits and third-party studies.
“These conditions didn’t just fly up out of nowhere,” Commissioner R. Patrick Bowe said. “We’ve tried to take everybody’s concerns and fears into account.”
The air quality studies should be conducted by “a company that is not related to any entity that would benefit,” said Swami Dayananda, a leader of Satchidananda Ashram-Yogaville, a nearby spiritual community that opposes the pipeline and compressor station. “County officials should decide who does it.”
The conditions also limit the size of the operation to 55,000 horsepower for the station and 22,000 horsepower for any turbine.
The pipeline company would have to return to the county for permission to expand the compressor station, as it has done repeatedly at two stations it operates near Leesburg in Loudoun to serve pipelines owned by Dominion Transmission Inc., a non-utility sister company of Dominion Virginia Power.
The transmission company is the lead partner in the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a limited liability company that also includes Duke Energy and its Piedmont Natural Gas subsidiary, and Southern Company Gas, owner of Virginia Natural Gas in Virginia Beach.
The compressor station proposed in Buckingham in July has faced intense public opposition by a coalition of outside environmental groups and local organizations such as Friends of Buckingham and Yogaville Environmental Solutions, as well as church leaders and residents concerned about the project’s potential health and environmental effects.
The battle over the zoning permit is part of a larger conflict over the proposed pipeline, especially in western Virginia, where opponents predict “all pain, no gain” for affected localities.
The pending deal to supply Kyanite Mining near Dillwyn would be the first agreement to tap the high-pressure, 42-inch pipeline to serve local gas customers west of Tidewater, where lateral pipelines are proposed to supply Virginia Natural Gas in Chesapeake and two Dominion power plants in Brunswick and Greensville counties.
Under the pending memoranda of understanding, Columbia Gas and Kyanite would tap the pipeline at a measuring and regulating station on land owned by Blue Rock Resources LLC, a subsidiary of the mining company.
They would build a lateral pipeline about 1.5 miles to 200 acres on U.S. 15 that Kyanite and Blue Rock would give Buckingham a long-term option to buy so the county could court potential economic prospects that want access to natural gas.
The line would extend another half-mile to Kyanite’s operation for processing and purifying the kyanite ore it mines.
Opponents called on planning commissioners to exercise “moral conscience” by rejecting the permit.
“Whose dominion will you serve, Tom Farrell’s or your creator’s?” asked Kenda Hanuman, referring to Dominion CEO Thomas F. Farrell II.