Dominion backs off plan to build natural gas pipeline along part of American Tobacco Trail

This was the proposed route of a Dominion natural gas pipeline along the American Tobacco Trail. On left, the green dot represents Herndon Park near Scott King Road in Durham. The pipeline would have routed through part of Chatham and Wake counties to Morrisville Parkway in Cary.

Dominion Energy no longer plans to build a controversial natural gas pipeline along six miles of the American Tobacco Trail, Policy Watch has confirmed.

Half the 13-mile underground pipeline would have run in an easement owned by the NC Department of Transportation, and along the ATT from Scott King Road, near Herndon Park in Durham, and through Chatham and Wake counties to Morrisville Parkway in Cary.

NCDOT Assistant Director of Communications Jamie Kritzer confirmed that department “learned yesterday that Dominion Energy has rescinded the request to utilize NCDOT right of way along the American Tobacco Trail for a pipeline.”

A Dominion spokeswoman confirmed the deal was off and that a new proposal would be forthcoming in the next few weeks.

As Policy Watch reported last week, no one from the utility nor NCDOT had notified Durham officials of the plan, even though the pipeline would have been routed through a southern portion of the county.

Additional documents obtained from the Town of Cary under the Public Records Act show Durham had been excluded from meetings with the utility and other government officials even two years ago.

Dominion previously said it had considered 20 alternatives to the ATT route, which it favored because the land was “pre-disturbed.”

The utility would have cleared at least 30 feet of trees and land on one side of the trail for construction. There would have been a 10-foot buffer between the trail and the pipeline, which would have been buried at a depth of 4 to 6 feet.

On May 7, the Board of Transportation agreed during a public meeting to the deal in which Dominion would pay $3 million to NCDOT for access to the right-of-way. Though the item was included in the board agenda, it wasn’t obvious. The one-paragraph mention occurred on page 17 of “Item R, Right of Way Resolutions and Ordinances.”

Dominion previously said the new pipeline is needed to provide natural gas service to existing and future customers due to the rapid development in the Triangle. It would also allow the utility to “downgrade or reduce pressure” of the 73 miles of existing high pressure transmission pipelines in Orange, Chatham, Lee and Wake counties.

“Reducing the pressure in these pipelines will reduce the internal stress levels of the pipes and significantly improve the overall safety,” according to the presentation. The project has been in the works for more than two years. At that time, PSNC was the utility planning to build the pipeline; Dominion later purchased the company.

It’s still unclear why Durham was excluded from regional conversations that occurred in 2018.

According to documents from the Town of Cary obtained under the Public Records Act, that year NCDOT claimed it contacted the ATT’s “leaseholders” — Chatham, Wake and Durham counties — Durham officials said they were never notified and didn’t know about the project until late last month.

The counties in turn notified the Town of Cary, which manages the trail in Chatham County. On Aug. 16, 2018, an “ATT stakeholders” meeting was held at the Cary Fire Station No. 8. Minutes from the meeting state that “Durham would be a [signatory] on the agreement but Wake and Chatham would not be, due to existing agreements. Wake and Chatham do get to weigh in on the process.” Although Durham officials would have to sign the agreement, documents show that 10 people attended this meeting, none of them from the city or the county:

  • Steve Head, NCDOT Rail Division;
  • Josue Alcaraz and Chris Norcorss, project engineers with SCANA, a South Carolina utility affiliated with PSNC;
  • Mike Young, branch manager of Energy Land Infrastructure, a contractor that worked with the utility on the proposal
  • Paul Kuhn, Juliet Andes and Sandi Bailey with the Town of Cary facilities and parks departments
  • Tracy Burnett, director of Chatham Parks and Recreation;
  • Eric Staehle and Ashley Subat with Wake County facilities and parks departments.

At the time PSNC staff were ready to begin surveying, but Steve Head of the rail division said at the meeting that “no surveying would be done until all affected parties are notified.”

The meetings also quote an unnamed person saying “PSNC must play by NCDOT rules. NCDOT will need to identify the process.” PSNC acknowledged at the meeting that it had never undertaken a pipeline project of this magnitude along a recreational trail. Nor did PSNC commit to replanting the disturbed areas.

The minutes show that the corridor “could be revegetated,” but utility representatives said the company had not “typically revegetated” on construction corridors of projects of this scale.”

Dominion subsequently agreed in the most recent proposal to replant along the corridors.

According to the minutes, Chatham, Wake and Cary staff noted that “if the project moves forward then other stakeholders will need to be contacted and brought into the process. We are also very interested in the appropriate public process if the project moves forward, since the local communities would be the ones receiving the phone calls and questions.”

NC751 Feasibility Study 7 27 2018 (Text)

One Comment

  1. Dave Connelly

    June 2, 2020 at 3:29 pm

    Great research and reporting by Lisa Sorg. News bulletin for NCDOT and Dominion Energy about stakeholders: The City of Durham, Durham County, and 4,667 petition signers (who questioned the plan to clear-cut half the trail) were stakeholders, too.

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