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Citizen Panel to Vote on Pipeline through African-American Community

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Monday, December 17, 2018   

BUCKINGHAM, Va. — After a winter storm delayed a closely watched vote on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, the issue will be back before a citizens' board this Wednesday.

Virginia's Air Pollution Control Board is set to decide whether the state's largest utility, Dominion Energy, can build a sprawling gas-fired compressor station in the historically black community of Union Hill in Buckingham County. It's been the focus of ongoing protests from environmental groups and critics like Andrea Miller, state coordinating counsel with Virginia's Poor People's Campaign, who argued the project puts a disproportionate burden on low-income and minority people.

"They sited the compressor station in an historic freedman's town. How ugly and terrible is that?” Miller said. “They had originally talked about doing it near George Washington's home, at which point they were immediately chased out of there."

Dominion Energy insisted that relocating isn't possible because the station must intersect with an existing pipeline, and the Union Hill parcel was the right spot with a willing seller. The company said it plans to invest more than $5 million as part of a community enhancement package. Some residents welcome the offer while others claim it amounts to a bribe.

The compressor station would pressurize fracked gas and keep it flowing through the 600-mile-long pipeline spanning three states. Both Dominion and Gov. Ralph Northam's administration have said they've worked carefully to make sure the station will be environmentally friendly and won't harm nearby residents.

Miller described it as a lot of money and political influence being thrust on a community that isn't prepared. However, she said, they've been gaining support.

"The people of Union Hill are fighting back,” she said. “Their neighbors from Yogaville have joined them. And many, many organizations from all over Virginia are standing with the people of Union Hill."

Union Hill is a remote area settled by free slaves after the Civil War. Unmarked graves of African-American laborers are scattered in neighboring woods.

The Air Pollution Control Board has seen a recent shakeup, since Gov. Northam replaced two members serving over their term limits.


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