News-Star: Opinion

Your Letters: Natural gas pipeline would be bad for Johnston

Pipeline would hurt county

Citizens of Johnston County, have you thought about the real impact of the planned Atlantic Coast Pipeline, or ACP, a natural-gas pipeline through our county?

Many county landowners face the unwanted reality of eminent domain, a process that allows governments to seize private property for public use. What’s different about the pipeline is that it is not the government, but private companies, doing the seizing of land, and it is not for the common good, but for the financial benefit of a small handful of investors. This pipeline is to be for the use and profit of that small group; private tap-ons to the natural gas line are not planned, even for the affected landowners. (Similar to losing your land to an electric line right-of-way without being able to get electricity!) Using eminent domain for private profit is wrong and might be illegal.

The hardships borne by affected property owners include decreased property values, limits to real estate insurance, limits to the ability to get a mortgage or refinance property, permanently restricted use of property that contains the pipeline, unfairly low compensation to property owners, especially since property owners are required to pay taxes on the restricted land forever but the “fair market” payment is a one-time buyout. No permanent structure can ever be placed over the pipeline right-of-way – no house, no barn, no mobile home, etc.

ACP will purchase only the permanent right-of-way for the pipeline’s 50-foot buffer through a landowner’s property, not the entire property. It wants the landowner to pay the continuing taxes on the entire plot, including the forfeited pipeline part, and to absorb costs associated with the limited use and marketability of the entire plot.

In addition to affected landowners, many other county residents will feel the impact of the pipeline. Here are some other “facts” for consideration by everyone:

▪  As the 40 miles of pipelines in Johnston County deteriorate, accidents will be inevitable. An odor from the gas might or might not be detectable through smell, and a problem might not be known until animals or vegetation around a leak start to die or an explosion occurs.

▪  Farmers along the route can no longer claim their products as organic because of the chemicals used to keep the rights-of-way clear. Certain livelihoods (organic farmers and beekeepers) will be wiped out. It is unknown whether some of our super-heavy tractors and trucks will be restricted to certain areas of a field containing the pipeline.

▪  The natural gas is forced under tremendous pressure. One recent “minor” mishap in Kentucky left a crater 60 feet deep and loss of life. Underground lines can explode and spread fire quickly. The “incineration zone” is around 1,000 feet on either side of the pipeline. Which insurance companies will cover structures within that distance?

Recently, ACP mailed affected landowners glossy marketing materials on the pipeline. The accompanying letter called it a “fact book.” It contains unverifiable “facts,” such as the pipeline is expected to contribute $1 million in annual Johnston County property tax revenue for the 37 miles of pipe. It is stated as fact, but where does the figure originate? Did they account for the loss in taxes on spoiled lands that might otherwise have been developed by owners and would have increased the tax income? Even ACP says in the fine print of its original proposal that expected tax increases are several years away. Local officials, drunk with dollar signs in their eyes, should check out the fine print and talk to our own tax office. Any additional taxes will be offset by reduced property values of the confiscated and affected lands. Likely, the pipeline assets will be depreciated over the years, so even perceived gain in taxes will eventually go away.

Many Johnston County landowners are at the mercy of huge private corporations because governments have turned questions of utility eminent domain over to the private utility sector under the assumption that the company will look out for the common good. The big question for all of us should be, “Is this pipeline project for the common good of all, or is it primarily for the benefit/profit of some very powerful investors?”

To express your concerns, you may contact Johnston County Commissioners; send a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission at 888 First St. NE, Washington, D.C. 20426 (Docket: PF15-6-000); call Atlantic Coast Pipeline at 844-215-1819; or contact Therese Vick, Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, at therese.vick@gmail.com or 919-345-3673.

Francine Stephenson

Clayton

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