Some Nelson County residents’ opposition to the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline took a different form last Thursday at the Chamber of Commerce’s annual legislative breakfast, when state representatives expressed their views of the natural gas project.

Del. Richard P. “Dickie” Bell, R-Staunton, and Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, spent the largest chunk of a question-and-answer session addressing the topic important to many Nelson residents and others along the 600-mile route, which goes from West Virginia through Virginia and to North Carolina.

Nellysford resident Richard Averitt, whose property is directly affected by the proposed pipeline, asked the legislators about their view on the project he believes will be detrimental to the environment and landowners — as well as to proposed businesses like the resort he had planned for the Nellysford area before the pipeline was slated to be constructed there.

Averitt accused the two of not standing with the landowners affected by the Dominion Energy-led project, which currently is being considered by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Averitt said despite the fact FERC ultimately decides whether to approve the project, he believes it can be stopped if there is enough response from representatives, who can work with state agencies like the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to provide an obstacle to the project.

“If every single representative I’ve spoken to has said, ‘We don’t support this. We think this is wrong. We support property rights.’ If just a few of you, maybe 10, 15, 20 or more, stood up and said that publicly, this would change,” Averitt said.

“We need leadership. We need a statesman’s position to stand up and say, ‘Dominion, you may want this pipeline, and I understand there are lots of energy needs that are important to balance, but you can’t do it by taking the hard-earned property of the citizens of the state of Virginia in this abusive manner.’”

Bell and Deeds both denied the accusation they have not represented landowners’ concerns.

“I think rather than grandstanding, it’s more important for us to work with the agencies that are actually making the decision, and that’s FERC,” Deeds said. “I’ve expressed the concerns that have come from my constituents. I’ve expressed my concerns. I’ve made suggestions. I think that’s appropriate.”

Bell agreed, adding, “Some of you would like for us to come out and [do] some grandstanding, but that is not a solution, that is not an answer. Whether or not the pipeline happens, I can’t say, but I can tell you what we’ve done.”

Bell said more changes to the route have been made in his district than any other. He and Deeds both said they’ve corresponded with FERC about their concerns with the project, as well.

But, Bell acknowledged, his actions likely won’t appease concerned Nelson residents.

“That won’t be good enough for a lot of people because a lot of people want it to go away,” Bell said. “I can’t make it go away. Creigh can’t make it go away. Maybe your elected officials at the federal level can make it go away, but it is not a legislative issue in Virginia.”

Bell, who said he isn’t necessarily opposed to pipeline infrastructure, citing the thousands of miles of pipelines already in place in Virginia, encouraged residents to keep fighting, though.

“Continue to protest. Use every legal means available to you to continue that protest, because I think it has made some difference. I think it’s made some difference to Dominion, because otherwise, I think they never would have made any changes [to the route],” Bell said. “I encourage that and respect you for doing it, [but] ultimately I can’t tell you if it’s going to make a difference.”

Averitt also accused the duo of not doing more to publicly oppose the project for a “much more insidious and really ugly” reason. He said believes Dominion Energy has bought their silence.

The two vehemently denied the claim, calling it “misleading” and “insulting, frankly.”

They said Dominion Energy supports politicians on both sides of the aisle, and their records show they aren’t afraid to oppose legislation they believed would be damaging to their constituents that would benefit Dominion.

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Emily Brown covers the Hillcats, ODAC and high school sports for The News & Advance. Reach her at (434) 385-5529.

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