‘Completely out of the norm’: Central Virginia counties protest Chickahominy Pipeline plan

Virginia News
Chickahominy Pipeline path

Chickahominy Pipeline path

LOUISA, Va. (WRIC) — Louisa County asked the Virginia State Corporation Commission (SCC) on Sept. 27 to reject a company’s request that they be exempted from regulatory oversight on their plan to build a sprawling natural gas pipeline across five counties in central Virginia.

As 8News previously reported that Chickahominy Pipeline, LLC petitioned the State Corporation Commission on Sept. 3 to issue a judgment releasing the company from oversight on its proposed pipeline.

But in their new filing, Louisa County asked the SCC to reject Chickahominy Pipeline’s argument, saying the company should be subjected to state regulations on public utilities.

Frustration with CPLLC among Louisa County’s board of supervisors was spurred on by concerns raised by residents and unresponsive company representatives.

At a meeting of the Louisa County Board of Supervisors on Sept. 20, several residents came forward during a public comment period to voice their opposition to the pipeline, which would cross most of the county.

“My big concern is that the state has set the goal of being through with any kind of fossil fuel energy generation by 2050,” said Steve Lucas.

Company No-Show

The Board of Supervisors had been in contact with CPLLC and had intended to hear from the company before filing a response with the SCC.

Louisa County acquired maps of the pipeline’s proposed path through Encompass Energy, the company contracted to complete surveys of the land the pipeline would cross. Those maps were included as public exhibits for the meeting on Sept. 20, shown below.

These maps show the path of the pipeline in total (top) and through Louisa County (bottom). (Maps courtesy of Louisa County)

But when the time came for the pipeline company’s representative to speak, he did not appear.

According to county officials, he called shortly before the meeting, telling them he had “forgotten to put it on his calendar.”

Supervisor Fitzgerald A. Barnes said it was a disappointing sign, “I certainly take exception to somebody missing a meeting if it’s important to them. That says a lot.”

Even before the SCC filing on Sept. 27, the sentiment among Supervisors was clear: the SCC should regulate the pipeline, taking a critical eye to the company’s efforts.

“I would think right now our position would be to keep them under that State Corporation Commission guidelines, unless something drastically proves different,” said Supervisor R.T. Williams, jr. “And we should start preparing for that position.”

“Completely Out of the Norm”

Officials from other counties along the pipeline’s path have repeatedly tried to contact CPLLC, but many have been frustrated by a lack of communication from the company.

Cari Tretina, the Chief of Staff to the Henrico County Administrator, said when they heard about the project from residents who’d received letters, it immediately raised red flags.

“The most concerning aspect is that this proposed project runs through flood plains, wetlands and specifically right through the Chickahominy,” Tretina said.

Tretina said she was surprised that the company hadn’t reached out to the county before contacting residents to ask for permission to survey.

“The way that this project has been communicated is completely out of the norm to what we as a locality are used to,” she said.

And a representative of New Kent County told 8News they haven’t had any contact from the company since they amended a “water supply agreement” with CPLLC in January 2020 – before the pipeline plan was widely known.

A Question of Public Utility

The company’s argument hinges on whether it should be considered a “public utility” under state law. Company representatives contend that because the pipeline will only be used to transport natural gas from the Transco interstate pipeline in Louisa to the proposed Chickahominy Power Station in Charles City, it doesn’t qualify as a public utility.

The petition argues these are “transactions involving private parties over which the Commission has no authority to require regulatory approval.”

But in their response, Louisa County said that because both Chickahominy Power and Chickahominy Pipeline are both potentially subsidiaries of the same parent company, they shouldn’t be exempt from regulations that would apply if they were one company.

Specifically, they cited Virginia case law that says an entity “may not accomplish an object indirectly that it could not perform directly” – that is, through a subsidiary as opposed to by the parent company.

The power station itself – advanced under the Chickahominy Power moniker – was approved by the SCC in 2018.

The company requested an expedited decision on their petition, asking the SCC to rule by Nov. 1, but an extension was granted by the SCC after several parties filed requests.

Virginia Natural Gas and Louisa County, along with two private citizens, have officially filed as respondents in the case, and Henrico and Hanover counties filed petitions for extensions to the response deadline, indicating that they likely also intend to act as respondents.

While the Chickahominy Power Station lies within the VNG service area, CPLLC said that, “As a result of discussions with VNG, CPLLC has determined that it is impracticable and unfeasible to procure an adequate supply of natural gas from VNG.”

Virginia Natural Gas told 8News that while they did hold discussions with CPLLC, the content of those discussions is protected by a non-disclosure agreement.

But a representative of VNG stressed that “any claim about the practicality and feasibility of natural gas service from VNG made by CPLLC in their filing is their characterization and not that of VNG.”

This composite shows the approximate path of the existing Virginia Natural gas pipeline (blue) through Charles City, New Kent, and Hanover Counties. CPLLC rejected the possibility of buying gas from VNG, which already has a pipeline in Charles City County. The proposed Chickahominy Pipeline would parallel the VNG pipeline for much of its length. (Map composite based on data from the National Pipeline Mapping System)
The approximate route of the proposed Chickahominy Pipeline. (Map courtesy of Louisa County)

Growing Involvement

Involvement in the SCC case goes beyond companies and counties. Private citizens can file responses as well, arguing their own case.

According to Taylor Lilley, an environmental justice attorney with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, landowners who might be affected by the pipeline can file with the SCC. But that’s not an easy process.

“This is a pretty daunting prospect, to step into the shoes of a lawyer,” said Lilley.

The CBF has been working with grassroots groups in Charles City since late Fall 2019, and Lilley said past organizing against the C4GT project has accelerated the response against the Chickahominy Pipeline.

“All of the advocacy around this project is an impressive structure built out of necessity,” she said. “When [the pipeline] was announced people were already on the SCC website.”

And she emphasized that the CBF’s involvement was purely advisory, with community organizations taking the lead and the CBF providing legal support when needed.

“We don’t want to take up space just because we have the ability to do so,” she said.

Balico, CPLLC and the companies’ agent Mr. Irfan K. Ali did not respond to 8News’ request for comment.

Read the full petition by Louisa County below:

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