Barring an objection from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Johnston County will grant an easement for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline on county-owned land.
FEMA has a say because the pipeline wants to cross two county-owned parcels flooded by Hurricane Fran in 1996 and later deeded to Johnston by FEMA. The county can’t sell the land; the question is whether it can sell permanent easements. If so, the pipeline would pay the county $22,072.50.
The parcels in question are two narrow tracts of land off of U.S. 701 east of Four Oaks and Interstate 95. The pipeline will stretch from West Virginia to southern North Carolina, including a lengthy north-south stretch through eastern Johnston County. The pipeline’s builders, Dominion Resources and Duke Energy Progress, expect it to be in service by 2019.
Jonathan York with Dominion said that during construction, the company would use a 110-foot temporary easement on the land. A 50-foot permanent easement would remain when the pipeline was up and running.
County Manager Rick Hester said Johnston staff recommended accepting the deal, which all told would affect less than two acres of the two parcels. FEMA has yet to sign off.
“We’re waiting on word from FEMA that an easement would be OK,” Hester said.
After Fran, FEMA took on several flooded tracts in Johnston County and later handed them over to the county, with the stipulation that the county maintain them as open space and not sell them. The county contends a pipeline easement meets both requirements.
“What the FEMA requirement says is that it has to be used for open space,” said county attorney Jennifer Slusser. “We think that this request would be consistent with that; however, we need someone in the FEMA regional office to tell us that that is the case.”
Hester said the $22,000 would likely go into the county’s general fund.
The two tracts are currently either forest land or empty fields. Commissioner Allen Mims asked about the value of the timber on the property.
“It looks like most of it is timberland,” Mims said to York, the Dominion representative. “Did y’all calculate in the value of the timber? And are y’all, on all this other land you’re doing for the taxpayers, calculating in the timber value? Are you letting them harvest the timber? Do y’all harvest the timber, or do you just grind it into the ground.”
York assured Mims the trees would be cut and sold for their timber value. That’s standard practice along the pipeline, he said.
“We are paying double stumpage for timber across the pipeline,” York said. “Whatever the value of the timber is, we’re actually paying it twice. Because the rationale behind it is that’s going to take out timber and future timber for that landowner. In some cases, we let the landowner harvest it, especially if it’s a timber company.”
Once the pipeline is installed, York said, the company will plant grass along the easement.