Highlanders for Responsible Development Hold Annual Meeting
Highlanders for Responsible Development held it’s annual public meeting Sunday, September 28th at The Highland Center Pavilion. While the crowd of nearly 40 heard updates on several HRD activities, including educational initiatives, the meeting and conversation was predictably dominated by discussion of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
HRD chair Lew Freeman:
“It is the biggest construction project to ever happen in this county, and it’s probably fair to say, if it happened, as proposed, it would be the biggest construction project ever in the state of Virginia.”
Freeman went on to explain the crux of the matter was a “conflict of values” – Dominion’s stated need for the pipeline to provide energy, along with their claimed benefits, versus the desire to protect the natural resources within Highland and our region.
Mr. Freeman expressed skepticism on the validity of Dominion’s assertions regarding economic and environmental impact, having attended several open houses himself, and communicating with attendees at others.
“You’ll find that depending on where you are, geographically, Dominion says different things to different people in different ways, sometimes in the same room. What that breeds, even in the most objective mindset, is a lack of trust about what is the answer to these questions, and how capable is Dominion to do what they say they want to do, in a way that is safe for the environment, and safe in other respects.”
Freeman reported that meetings between concerned organizations along the pipeline’s path had spurred the formation of the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance, a coalition of close to 30 members dedicated to sharing information and activities regarding the project. He also noted the formation of a parallel group, the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition, headed by HRD Water Committee chair Rick Webb. This group would test the water quality along the pipeline route to set a baseline before the project begins, allowing impacts to be accurately gauged.
Freeman noted HRD and Alliance members are continuing to meet with government agencies and representatives to communicate their fears of the project’s impact, and question Dominion’s stated purposes and benefits, including doubts as to the validity of overall economic impact.
“No economic study, done by the government, done by anybody, is any better than the validity of the assumptions that go into it. I don’t know exactly what the assumptions were, but I think the assumptions were, based on what I’ve read, that there are no minuses to this, that there are no downsides, that there are only pluses.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, I don’t know of an economic activity in the history of mankind, that does not have some risk associated with it, and some negatives. The presumption here, behind this economic study is that it’s all plus, it’s all win-win. There is no such thing as win-win. What they don’t take into account here is what the costs are to the people, and to the communities that would be affected.”
Attendee Winifred Stephenson commented that in the report, it was stated that in 2019, the project would only have been responsible for 118 jobs, across the entire state of Virginia.
Freeman also noted data from the Natural Gas Supply Association website showed adequate supply of the product last winter, with spot exceptions, which would counter Dominion’s claims that the pipeline must be built to prevent price spikes and increases in cost.
The meeting ended with a period for audience questions and commentary, but before he ended his remarks, Freeman reiterated that there were still many steps before this project moves forward. He urged citizens and officials to contact government representatives and agencies with their opinions and objections, which would be taken into consideration during the final approval process. He said a list of contact information would soon be posted on the Allegheny Blue Ridge-Alliance website.