If there is one thing that North Carolinians can generally support it would be positive infrastructure growth that brings a healthier economy to eastern North Carolina.
In my role as a professional economic developer in this state for many years, I’ve watched the exciting progress in several of the state’s population centers, especially the Triangle, Triad, metropolitan Charlotte and Wilmington.
Sadly, little of that growth has spread to the east beyond Raleigh. Our neighbors in this largely rural and agricultural region need help, and they need it quickly.
Soon, welcome help will come in the form of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, an underground, natural gas pipeline that will run about 200 miles through eight eastern North Carolina counties.
Dominion, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and Southern Company Gas are now in the final federal permitting stages for the proposed pipeline. The 600-mile pipeline will span across three states and is expected to be in service by late 2019.
While a small, but vocal group of opponents has recently expressed concern about the pipeline, the overwhelming majority of North Carolina businesses, elected officials, local governments and residents support it.
The positive economic impacts of this project will be significant for eastern North Carolina and will improve the lives of thousands of our residents. It is not an exaggeration to say that this project represents the largest capital investment in the economic future of our region in many decades.
For starters, the two-year construction process alone will stimulate almost $700 million in economic activity and create more than 4,000 jobs across eastern North Carolina. And these aren’t just any jobs. These are the good-paying, middle-class jobs that can provide a real future for working families in our communities – welders, pipefitters, equipment operators, to name only a few.
Construction will also generate lucrative opportunities for many local vendors, suppliers and subcontractors – to the tune of tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars over a two-year period. The pipeline company will need to enlist the services of local equipment and concrete suppliers, fencing and trucking companies, vehicle services and hydraulics shops and many more. This kind of project only comes along once in a generation and will breathe new life into many of our local economies.
Over the long-term, having this new energy infrastructure in eastern North Carolina will enable this region to attract new industries, new jobs and additional tax revenues for many years to come. That is especially great news for Northampton, Halifax, Nash, Wilson, Johnston, Sampson, Cumberland and Robeson counties.
Over the first two decades of the ACP’s operation, the pipeline is expected to generate $1.2 billion in capital investment in North Carolina, and electric and gas customers are expected to save more than $130 million in annual energy costs.
Localities along the pipeline’s route also stand to gain a significant amount of new tax revenue from the pipeline. In fact, Dominion and its partners will contribute about $28 million in new property tax revenue every single year to cities and counties along the ACP’s route, every single year the pipeline is in operation.
Understandably, safety is a concern when it comes to pipelines. However, thanks to regular monitoring and inspection, and the use of redundant safety measures, natural gas pipelines are actually the safest form of energy transportation in our country. It is far safer to deliver natural gas through an underground pipeline, than to transport propane and other energy fuels by rail or truck.
I have learned that more than 72 million American homes and businesses use natural gas every day with very few problems. Pipelines are a safe, normal and beneficial part of the everyday life of millions of Americans. Once construction is complete and the pipeline is buried several feet underground, the surface of the land is fully restored back to its original condition and the pipeline goes pretty much unnoticed. Farmers continue growing crops and pasturing livestock right on top of the pipeline, and wildlife populations continue to flourish.
Communities in eastern North Carolina deserve a brighter and more prosperous future. I’m excited about the possibility of bringing new jobs and new industries to our state, and particularly this region. The opportunity to have millions in new tax dollars will allow necessary public investments to rebuild communities across eastern North Carolina. This region deserves new opportunities, and that’s what the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is all about. It’s opportunity time for eastern North Carolina. Let’s seize the moment.
Harvey Schmitt is the former president and CEO of The Raleigh Chamber of Commerce.