Suffolk woman fighting to keep Atlantic Coast Pipeline off her land

SUFFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Dominion Energy is moving full speed ahead with its Atlantic Coast Pipeline, but one Hampton Roads resident is saying, “Not in my backyard.”

Paulette Johnson bought the property in Suffolk 10 years ago, and when she did, she had no thought even in her wildest imagination that a pipeline would cut right through the property. Yet, that will likely happen.

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is a likely done deal, but not if Johnson has her way. Johnson and pipeline opponents fear massive explosions.

In January on the Texas panhandle, there was police dash cam video showing a massive explosion. A 26-inch natural gas line ruptured, creating a ball of raging fire, lighting up everything around it.

“If I choose to stay, I will have to live with that fear for the rest of my life, and I also have the fear of leakage into the ground will affect my water,” Johnson said.

Dominion Energy’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline will cut right through Johnson’s five acre nature sanctuary.

Since 2007 when she bought the land, Johnson has planted 3,000 pines, 500 red cedars and carved out walking paths. A pipeline wasn’t part of her  plan.

“What I’m most upset about, they are going to destroy the land, and they will be taking out the trees, and I can’t put anything back over on top of [the buried gas line.]”

Johnson’s attorney Brian Kunze says, “Now she has a 42-inch pipe there where she didn’t have one before.”

The path of the gas line cuts through West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina. It is an essentially important project, according to Dominion Energy’s Chet Wade, who is vice president of corporate communications. He says the Texas incident is rare.

“The incidents are very rare, like planes. They are the safest way to travel in the country, but when there are incidents, they clearly make news and people are concerned.”

Kunze says taking this land is not in the public good, it benefits private enterprise.

“They are not delivering it to the people whose land they are taking. It doesn’t benefit these people. They are building a 42-inch pipeline through peoples’ homes — their homes, their farms, through their family property. It doesn’t benefit them one bit.”

Not so, says Wade, who claims public service is served.

“We expect this pipeline to save Virginia consumers $300 million a year, and that is spread across all our customers.”

For Johnson, the sad reality is closing in.

“We chose this property because there was nothing there. It was virgin land. We could mold it,” Johnson said. “If we had known there was going to be a pipeline, we would not have purchased the land.”

On Friday, the final environmental impact statement is expected to be released, putting the pipeline one step closer to reality.

If Johnson denies access to her property, she will likely be taken to court and ordered by a judge to allow access.

Construction could begin in late fall, and the pipeline will be online by 2019.