ATLANTIC COAST PIPELINE
Dominion Energy is offering $5.1 million for a package of improvements — including expanded emergency services and a new community center — for a predominantly African-American community next to the site of a natural gas compressor station Dominion is proposing in Buckingham County to serve the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
The package, which Dominion negotiated with members of the Union Hill/Union Grove/Shelton Store community over the past three years, is emerging as the pipeline company is seeking a state air permit for the 53,783-horsepower compressor station in a two-day public meeting of the state Air Pollution Control Board that begins on Thursday.
Carlos Brown, vice president and general counsel at Dominion, said the package of community benefits is "not something that is directly tied to the compressor station air permit."
"It's a community need that we want to address," Brown said in an interview.
However, the proposed improvements are tied to the "successful completion" of the $7 billion pipeline project, which would extend 600 miles from West Virginia through the heart of Virginia to eastern North Carolina.
The package is welcomed by some and derided by others in the community, which has become the flashpoint in an intensifying debate about whether the pipeline compressor station represents an environmental and racial injustice because of its siting on a former plantation that enslaved the ancestors of some residents who live and own property there.
"They're using it as a divide-and-conquer technique," said the Rev. Paul Wilson, pastor of the Union Hill and Union Grove Baptist churches, which sit close to the 58acre site proposed for the compressor station.
Wilson said he was part of some discussions with Dominion in its attempt to engage the community, but contends the company deliberately left the church out of the discussions that led to the agreement it reached with other residents.
"They did strike a deal with some people who may be part of the community, but they didn't want to deal with the church because we are adamantly opposed to the project," he said Wednesday.
Other members of the community, located off state Route 56 between Buckingham Courthouse and the James River, say they support the initiative — if not the pipeline itself — because it would address an urgent need for emergency medical response and care for the entire county.
"It's not like we're really for the pipeline," said Cheryl White, 58, a lifelong resident until she married and moved to neighboring Prince Edward County last year. "I just feel like if it's coming, we need to be prepared."
White owns property on Route 56 and her parents live on Shelton Store Road, where she grew up. "I just feel like we need to come to some common ground," she said.
The most urgent improvement residents have sought is upgraded emergency service in the area, as well as an expanded 911 system for Buckingham. The area has few options since the loss of its volunteer rescue squad at the Glenmore Rescue Station, which is 5 to 10 miles closer than the nearest county emergency services station in Dillwyn.
"This was the number one concern of the people who chose to speak with Dominion," said Joyce Gooden, whose family raises cattle on property crossed by the Williams-Transco natural gas pipeline.
"If you're going to have a big footprint in this community, what are you going to do in this community?" said Gooden, a registered nurse and military veteran who has been part of the discussions with the company.
Her brother, former state Agriculture Secretary Basil Gooden, is a member of Wilson's congregation who has been working as a paid community liaison for Dominion to improve communication with local residents over the project, the company confirmed.
"The package upgrades the 911 system — not just for Union Hill and Union Grove, but the system period, all over Buckingham," Joyce Gooden said.
The proposed package contains:
• $1.5 million to upgrade the Glenmore station, a satellite of the Buckingham rescue squad; hire six full-time emergency responders to staff it; establish an emergency phone line and radio channel "designated specifically for Union Hill and Buckingham County"; and buy emergency response and utility terrain vehicles for the reopened station.
• $2 million for a community center along Route 56 to promote health, wellness, recreational, social and cultural activities, and a community park and pavilion.
• $1.5 million over 10 years to establish a community development corporation to run the new center and provide grants to promote business opportunities for entrepreneurs, with $500,000 upfront.
• $100,000 to document the community's history.
Brown, an African American lawyer whose family has similar ties to land in the Long Ridge community in Chesapeake, acknowledged that Dominion did not understand the community's history when it bought the land for a compressor station where the project would connect with the Transco pipeline that already runs through Buckingham.
He said the company is developing an environmental justice policy and planning to "strengthen our effort to do ground truthing" when it is evaluating potential sites for energy infrastructure.
"We need to know not only who owns the property, but who's actually living there and what is their story," he said.
The bitter fight over the pipeline and compressor station sometimes has divided the community. For example, ill feeling arose when Cheryl White's brother, Craig, received a special-use permit, opposed by pipeline opponents, to establish an RV campground for pipeline workers on land he and a business partner previously had bought to build homes along Route 56.
Their father, Charles White, 88, is a local historian and longtime publisher of The Informant, an African-American newspaper in Buckingham. He says he attends meetings on both sides of the fight.
Referring to pipeline opponents, he said: "My intuition is you might win a battle, but you're going to lose the war."
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