Amherst Town Council is set to hold a public hearing next month on a proposal by Dominion Energy, the Richmond company backing the controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline, to lease an area in a town industrial park for storing equipment and transporting workers to pipeline construction sites in other localities.
Council voted 4-0 during its July 10 meeting to advertise the hearing for leasing the property within the L. Barnes Brockman, Sr. Business and Industrial Park on U.S. 60 in Amherst for a two-year period. The vote followed a closed session during which council met with a Dominion representative behind closed doors, Town Manager Sara Carter said. The meeting agenda listed the reason for that portion of the closed session as “discussing a possible lease of [town] property for an economic development prospect where no previous announcement has been made.”
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is a $7 billion project slated for a 600-mile route through West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina, including a roughly 30-mile stretch in Nelson County. While granted approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, it faces legal and regulatory challenges on its path to starting construction.
Carter said the lot Dominion proposes to use is about 45 acres in the back of the industrial park, which is a short drive from U.S. 29 Business in Amherst and directly on the U.S. 60 corridor. The use of the land is for storage, placing equipment and mobilizing workers to bus to Nelson and Buckingham counties, which are among about 30 localities on the pipeline’s route through Virginia and North Carolina.
If approved, the site would be graded, cleared and an entrance would be put in, according to Carter. The company is not proposing to build any structures, she said.
The lease plan is for $300,000 a year over two years, she said, and an extension clause includes another year.
Along with the $600,000 in revenue, she said the proposal brings activity to a business park with plenty of available lots and improves it for future tenants.
in an email on Friday Aaron Ruby, a Dominion spokesman, said the proposed site would serve as a contractor yard.
"It’s a staging area for equipment and materials, and where work crews meet each morning before they head out to the work sites. It’s pretty standard for infrastructure projects like roads, highways, power lines and pipelines," Ruby said in the email. "When you’re building linear infrastructure projects across long distances, you need centralized staging areas to store equipment and materials."
In the past five years since plans were first announced for the project, opposition across the state has led to protests in Richmond government complexes and the Nelson County courthouse, among other sites. Protesters claim the pipeline is unnecessary and harmful to the environment. Nonetheless, Amherst has been relatively quiet with pipeline debate as the route has steered clear of its foothills and valleys.
Duke Energy, Piedmont Southern Natural Gas and Southern Company Gas also are involved with the project.
While the pipeline has stirred public opposition, particularly in neighboring Nelson, Carter said the town is looking at the move from an economic development viewpoint. Mayor Dwayne Tuggle deferred questions on the matter to Carter.
“They are leaving behind a significantly improved lot the town will have to market,” Carter said of Dominion’s plans. “The politics of the project really do not have a bearing on the piece of property in town. This is a good opportunity to move that property forward for economic development.”
She said public hearings are required any time public town-owned land is leased or sold, regardless of who the party is.
Town officials also are looking to the traffic the company’s presence in Amherst will bring as the pipeline work is underway. Workers converging onto the Brockman site to be shuttled elsewhere are expected to get gas, shop and buy meals while in town, Carter said.
“I think there’s an opportunity to boost revenue for businesses in town,” Carter said. “These things do have a positive effect on the businesses who are local.”
Amherst County Administrator Dean Rodgers said the county was aware of Dominion’s plans and it was a reason the county last summer didn’t stage its first fair in many years at the Brockman park and opted instead to have the event at another location. Rodgers said the lease with Dominion is an excellent short-term revenue generator for the town.
The hearing is expected to take place during council’s 7 p.m. meeting Wednesday, Aug. 14 at the Amherst town hall meeting room, 174 South Main St., Amherst.
Reach Justin Faulconer at (434) 385-5551.