WILSON, N.C. (WNCN) — Emergency managers are starting to form disaster response plans for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, well in advance of construction.
Pipeline planners expect the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to approve the 600-mile project soon. On Wednesday, representatives from Dominion Energy and Spring Ridge Constructors participated in Wilson County’s quarterly Local Emergency Planning Committee meeting.
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline workers said this is the first of a series of sessions in which they plan to meet with emergency managers in every county along the pipeline’s route.
“We recognize that there is maybe some fear of the unknown, and that’s why we pay so much attention to this type of outreach,” Dominion Energy’s Carla Picard said.
“We train for incidents not because we expect an incident, but because it’s part of our nature to be prepared, to be one step ahead, to be sure we’ve thought of everything, so that we can take appropriate measures to make sure that those types of things don’t happen.”
The natural gas company presented details about construction, safety plans and protocols, as well as training and coordination for local first responders. Emergency management director Gordon Deno said the crowd in attendance was more than twice the size of the typical turnout for the quarterly meeting.
Several of the participants own farm land in the Rock Ridge area, and came to the meeting to ask questions about safety.
“The proposed pipeline is scheduled to come through our family farm, so I’ll be sleeping next to danger,” Barbara Exum said.
She said the presentation did not make her feel any better about the planned construction.
Celena Bunn-Bissette said she was excited to learn the pipeline project managers wanted to meet with Wilson’s emergency management committee meeting. She said she expected the meeting to take place after the completion of construction. However, she was not satisfied with the answers she received.
“I know they talk about safety, and they’re sincere about talking about safety, how they are concerned for safety for their employees and for the residences,” Bunn-Bissette SAID. “But I still cannot help but be concerned about safety, the environmental impact. You can’t do the pinpoint blasting and not affect the environment.”
While many homeowners remain worried about leaks and explosions, emergency managers said they not anticipate any issues or additional work on their end.
“The city of Wilson has a very extensive natural gas pipeline system run through the entire city. The east side of our county is managed by Piedmont Natural Gas,” Deno said.
“When we look historically at what we’ve had locally, we don’t see it as being any different than anything else, other than the amount of volume that that particular pipeline will be pushing through.”
Deno said the pipeline is no different for emergency managers than other companies in the county that use ammonia, chlorine, and other chemicals at various facilities. He said this is all about planning, understanding natural gas, and how to react to it.
“It’s no different for us, as far as we’re concerned. It’s a planning aspect, and understanding what their product is and how they react to it,” he said.
Construction is planned for 2018 and 2019. Pipeline crews will hold more community meetings in the coming months, and also plan to have construction open houses.