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Johnston County landowners get glimpse of natural gas pipeline route

Doyle Land Services right of way representative Don Loper, left, talks to a landowner on Sept. 25 during a public meeting on the proposed Dominion Resources Atlantic Coast Pipeline at the Johnston County Agricultural Center in Smithfield.
Doyle Land Services right of way representative Don Loper, left, talks to a landowner on Sept. 25 during a public meeting on the proposed Dominion Resources Atlantic Coast Pipeline at the Johnston County Agricultural Center in Smithfield. ndunn@newsobserver.com

A natural-gas pipeline may run through Tony Parker’s family farm near the Johnston-Sampson county line. He’s OK with that, so long as it doesn’t get in the way.

“The way I understand it, it won’t affect it none,” Parker said. “They say they dig the topsoil up, put the pipe in about four or five feet and then put the same topsoil back on top.”

Parker was one of dozens of Johnston, Sampson and Wilson county landowners who got a first glimpse on Thursday at how the proposed 550-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline may cut through their properties. At a public meeting hosted by the project’s developer, Richmond, Va.-based Dominion Resources, residents could ask questions, voice concerns and make suggestions on how to alter the route.

Duke Energy and Piedmont Natural Gas partnered with Dominion to build the underground transmission line, which will stretch from the rich shale basins of West Virginia to Robeson County in North Carolina.

In Johnston County, one of eight North Carolina counties included in the proposal, the pipeline will run 36.5 miles north to south, initially west of the Interstate 95 corridor near Kenly and Micro, then southeast past Four Oaks and Benson.

In its current form, the pipeline would touch about 301 parcels in Johnston County, where 86 percent of landowners have allowed initial surveying, said Dominion spokesman Frank Mack.

About 1,384 total parcels touch the North Carolina portion of the project, which will require about 110 feet of access for construction and a 50-foot corridor for the buried line.

Local leaders say the pipeline will bring natural gas closer to sites they say are poised for economic development. Gov. Pat McCrory has said the project, estimated to cost $4.5 billion, can be a boon for the entire state.

But building won’t begin until Dominion gets approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The company also needs access to the land where the pipeline will carry gas.

To get the easements, Dominion will attempt to negotiate with landowners whose property is in the path of the final route. If negotiations fail, the company can use eminent domain to get an easement for a price decided by the courts.

Some easement agreements will not allow landowners to build structures or grow trees near the pipeline. On farmland, the company would bury the pipeline deep enough so farmers can continue to plant and harvest crops.

John Suggs leases out two tracts of farmland in central Johnston County, both of which have older natural-gas lines running underground. Suggs thought the Dominion pipeline was also aimed at his properties, until he learned they had been taken out of the plan on Thursday night.

“It felt good,” Suggs said after learning about the rerouted line. “I was really concerned.”

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