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Friends of Wintergreen Offers Alternative Routes for Proposed Pipeline

Posted: Updated: May 16, 2016 05:56 PM
Protest to Dominion's proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline in Nelson County Protest to Dominion's proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline in Nelson County
David Schwiesow David Schwiesow
Hank Theiss Hank Theiss
Entrance sign for Wintergreen Resort Entrance sign for Wintergreen Resort
NELSON COUNTY, Va. (WVIR) -

Nelson County's largest community is urging federal regulators to force Dominion to move its proposed natural gas pipeline away from their property.

Dominion's current route for the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline takes the project right through the only road in and out of Wintergreen Resort. Property owners and the resort are now providing their own proposed routes for officials to consider.

David Schwiesow's Fortune Point property at Wintergreen is in the path of the proposed pipeline. “Up to this point, Dominion has completely ignored the concerns for Wintergreen,” he said.

Schwiesow and the Friends of Wintergreen group have come up with four proposals to take the pipeline away from their area: Have it run along Interstate 64 and over Afton Mountain, put it under existing Dominion power lines, have it travel along Route 56, or move the pipeline south of Wintergreen's entrance.

“Each route either completely takes care of the damage we've identified, eliminates it, or substantially reduces it,” Schwiesow said.

The group filed these alternatives with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on Monday.

“We believe the most recent filing makes a compelling case for Dominion to find a different route for the pipeline,” said Wintergreen Resort General Manager Hank Theiss.

The resort says it's delaying plans to build a 150-room hotel and conference center until the pipeline route is settled. Wintergreen worries the pipeline will hurt its bottom line.

“I don't think it's clear whether these things will immediately come back. It's possible those opportunities will go away,” said Theiss.

The resort is Nelson County's largest employer, and it is backing the friends’ group filing. “We just don't understand why Dominion hasn't taken the initiative to truly find a different route than right through our front door,” Theiss said.

Schwiesow is confident FERC will force Dominion to find a way around Wintergreen Resort. “We've come up with responsible alternatives, and it's up to Dominion to treat them responsibly,” he said.

Release from Friends of Wintergreen:

NELLYSFORD, VIRGINIA, UNITED STATES, May 16, 2016 /EINPresswire.com/ - Friends of Wintergreen, Inc. submitted four alternative routes for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Compared to the route proposed by Dominion, these alternatives are less damaging to Virginia’s environment, economy, communities and public safety.

Dominion has proposed that its 42-inch, compressed natural gas pipeline would cut through the heart of the Blue Ridge mountain communities of Wintergreen and Nelson 151, one of the most popular tourism destinations on the East Coast.

If approved by FERC, Dominion’s pipeline in the Wintergreen area would cause the loss of $75 million in new investment, over 250 new tourism jobs, and a 20% decline in tourism business and property values to Nelson County’s largest employer and taxpayer.

Furthermore, Dominion wants to place the ACP immediately in front of the Wintergreen community’s only entrance and exit, a location through which 10,000 or more residents and tourists pass on a busy day. With a 1,100-foot blast radius and a 3,500-foot evacuation zone, an explosion of a 42-inch compressed natural gas pipeline at this location would be catastrophic.

“We fully support the need for clean energy,” said Jonathan Ansell, Chairman of Friends of Wintergreen, “but there are much more responsible ways to achieve this. Dominion’s proposed actions here are reckless and harmful not only to our local communities and businesses, but to Virginians and the Commonwealth as a whole. We have proposed better alternatives, including ones that use existing rights-of-ways or colocation that are less damaging and preferred by FERC. Colocation is a principle Dominion has chosen to ignore. Our research has shown that less than 10% of the ACP would use existing rights-of-way, the second worst level of all large pipelines in America.”

Friends of Wintergreen has retained top national environmental, legal and pipeline engineering firms to evaluate the legality, constructability, environmental impact, and other factors required to evaluate the relative merits of pipeline routes, including Dominion’s proposal near Wintergreen.

Ansell added, “Our experts determined that Dominion did not do a thorough or honest evaluation of alternative routes. Many of the so-called ‘alternatives’ Dominion offered are false choices, ones that would never be considered because of their obvious infeasibility. This pseudo-analysis leaves Virginians with the impression that Dominion’s proposed route is the best and only solution. That’s just wrong. Unfortunately, unless you are a pipeline company or a federal agency like the US Forest Service, most Virginians don’t have access to the talent, tools and resources needed to perform the scientific analysis needed by FERC to validate these situations. This makes it impossible for ordinary Virginians or local groups to technically critique Dominion’s proposals, opinions or judgment. Fortunately, we were able to do that.”

Of the four different route segments proposed by Friends of Wintergreen, all are constructible and less damaging than the Dominion’s proposed route.

- One uses existing rights-of-way or adjacencies for its entire 75-mile length, a substantial portion of which includes electrical transmission line rights-of-way currently owned by a Dominion subsidiary.

- A second uses colocation for one-third of its length and would actually shorten the length of the pipeline by more than 10 miles.

- The other two route alternatives also provide measurable benefits.

- None of those proposed would require congressional approval, an action that Dominion claims it is unwilling to pursue.

“The routes we have evaluated for Friends of Wintergreen are constructible. The issues and concerns we have heard raised by the ACP can be addressed,” said Bryan Melan, principal of Tide Water Integrity (Houston) and pipeline engineer of 39 years.

Friends of Wintergreen has asked FERC to require that Dominion evaluate and select one of these specific alternatives, or propose others, that provide meaningful options and avoid the adverse impacts. The group has also requested that Dominion be more forthright, transparent, responsive and accurate with information provided to landowners and Virginia communities.

Friends of Wintergreen was joined in this filing by the Wintergreen Property Owners Association and Pacific Wintergreen, the manager of Virginia’s top resort.

Statement from Dominion:

We have studied numerous alternatives for crossing the Appalachian Trail and Blue Ridge Parkway, including the alternative routes proposed by Friends of Wintergreen. We have given these alternatives the careful consideration they deserve. However, our extensive analysis found a number of significant construction challenges and federal land management restrictions that would prevent us from using these proposed alternatives.

Most of the routes proposed by Friends of Wintergreen cross federally managed lands that do not allow utility corridor crossings. Two of the routes cross land administered by the National Park Service (NPS) in areas where the agency does not have the administrative authority to approve pipelines crossings. Therefore, these routes are not feasible as a matter of current law. Additionally, two of the routes cross areas designated by the U.S. Forest Service as Remote Backcountry or Wilderness Areas, which are incompatible with pipeline crossings.

Constructability is also a significant challenge with these alternatives. For example, extremely steep terrain and severe side slopes, as well as sharp elevation changes at one of the proposed HDD crossings would prevent safe construction in many of these areas. A major interstate highway interchange and multiple abandoned railroad tunnels located on one of the alternatives would also prevent us from crossing at this location.

We recognize that Wintergreen and other tourist-related businesses are important economic assets for Nelson County, and we're confident they will continue to succeed long after our project is complete. The experience of other tourist regions of the country shows that tourism and natural gas pipelines are entirely compatible. We often hear Nelson County referred to as the "Napa Valley of Virginia," so it's important to look at Napa Valley's experience. Napa Valley has more than 280 miles of major natural gas pipelines, yet it is still one of the largest tourist and wine-producing regions of the country. More than three dozen hotels, wineries and resorts in the Napa Valley are located within just a few miles of major natural gas pipelines. These pipelines have not inhibited the success of Napa Valley's tourism industry, and there is no reason to believe Nelson County would be any different."

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