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State NAACP president muddies group’s stance against Dominion Energy pipeline project

Jeremy Lazarus | 12/6/2018, 6 a.m.
The Virginia State NAACP is reaffirming its opposition to Dominion Energy’s $6.5 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline because it believes a ...

Rev. Kevin Chandler

Rev. Kevin Chandler

The Virginia State NAACP is reaffirming its opposition to Dominion Energy’s $6.5 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline because it believes a key element of the pipeline — a natural gas compressor station —poses a pollution risk to a historically African-American community in Buckingham County, 75 miles west of Richmond.

The civil rights group restated that position in a letter to Gov. Ralph S. Northam ahead of a high-stakes meeting next week of the state Air Pollution Control Board. According to officials, the organization wants to put an end to any questions about its stance on the project after the group’s president issued a letter appearing to endorse the pipeline.

The Air Pollution Control Board, reduced from seven to four voting members because of actions by the governor and one member’s conflict of interest, is scheduled to meet Monday, Dec. 10, to consider approval for a permit for the crucial compressor station that Dominion Energy wants to build on land adjacent to the unincorporated Union Hill community that freedmen and former slaves established after the Civil War.

With residents of Union Hill divided over the project, the state NAACP previously joined environmental justice groups and others in urging that the compressor station permit be denied. A major concern is that a rupture in the line or a flaw in the compressor could send natural gas into the ground, polluting the groundwater of Union Hill residents.

Concerns also have focused on the noise the proposed 54,000-horsepower compressor would create in the rural area and the dangerous chemicals that it would spew into the air in compressing the fracked gas it would carry from West Virginia through Virginia to North Carolina.

Dominion has changed the Union Hill station’s design to include noise buffers and sound reduction.

Dominion chose the Union Hill location because it allows for an essential connection with the separate Transco natural gas line that has run through the area for decades and its proximity to main roads, U.S. 60 and U.S. 29. The Union Hill station would be largest of three compressor stations Dominion plans to build to transmit the gas along the 600-mile pipeline.

Expectations are that the Air Pollution Control Board will approve the permit after Gov. Northam removed two board members whose terms had expired and who had been most critical of the project.

Questions about the state NAACP’s position have been bubbling ahead of the air board’s meeting. The questions arose after the Rev. Kevin Chandler of South Boston, NAACP state president, issued a letter on the civil rights group’s letterhead suggesting that the NAACP could support the compressor.

He has not responded to requests for comment.

In the Nov. 21 letter, Rev. Chandler stated that the NAACP “is satisfied with the progress and efforts Dominion Energy has made to work with the key stakeholders and residents of Union Hill.” He also praised Dominion’s commitment to spend $5.1 million to restore ambulance service to Union Hill, build a community center, document the community’s history and fund community development.