Chill Out, Wintergreen!

Wintergreen Resort -- residents in fear of gas pipeline

Wintergreen residents fearful of gas pipeline

by Stephen Haner

To My Fellow Landowners in Wintergreen:

Chill out, will you?

My inbox is filling these days with Wintergreen-related propaganda opposing a natural gas pipeline that is proposed to pass through Nelson County.

Here’s a recent example, emphasis added:

“The great majority of Wintergreen owners will permanently see it as they enter Wintergreen and from all of the major vantage points here – Black Rock Circle, Devils Knob Loop all the way to Blue Ridge Overlook and down Cedar Drive, the Plunge, the Wintergreen/Founders Vision Overlook and for several miles as it winds its way down to Rockfish Valley.  Property values on the Mountain and in Stoney Creek will be adversely affected.”

Oh, please.  Once the pipeline is built and then re-buried – beside but not through Wintergreen — people from a few vantages might see a wide swath of grass, a straight long meadow, snaking down the mountainside.  Just like now they see a winding road.

Here’s a little tidbit you all know but the rest of Virginia might not.  Property values in Wintergreen are already depressed, still far below the peak in 2007 or so.  That particular micro real estate market was in recession long before there was any discussion of a pipeline.

Why? Energy prices and the general malaise in the U.S. economy are to blame.  A second home and resort membership out in the mountains is a luxury item, requiring a very nice income and a willingness to fill up the family buggy with lots and lots of fuel, especially if your second house is on top of a mountain.  If you care about your property values, you want fuel prices to continue at these current low levels and you want Virginia’s economy to start booming again.  You want Virginia back on top of the “Best for Business” rankings.

And that’s what the pipeline, as one element of the cheap-natural-gas fueled rebirth of our economy, is all about. Wintergreen is the perfect example of how the wealth of the Richmond, Hampton Roads and Washington areas finds its way to the Blue Ridge.

As the pipeline routes are debated, as the “No Pipeline” signs sprout in the county, I understand the anger of those landowners who have a family farm or business that is directly impacted.  But the wealthy of Wintergreen whining about their view have me scratching my head, because some of you have to understand enough economics to see the benefits of this pipeline and enough engineering to know it will be safe and barely visible.

Me, I’m hoping sometime in the distant future somebody else has the inclination and income to buy our house, and that wealth is not going to be created without energy.  The BANANA (build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything) philosophy coming to dominate this country is the real threat to property values.

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27 responses to “Chill Out, Wintergreen!

  1. re: ” a straight long meadow, snaking down the mountainside. Just like now they see a winding road.”

    or ski slopes? 😉

    here’s the real problem.

    Dominion is perceived as arrogant and imperious.

    they do not seek willing seller/willing buyer transactions nor do they make much effort to use existing rights-of-ways – they just tell landowners to bend over … and be still.

    Ditto on the James River Crossing. “It’s none of your dang business why we want to cross and where we want to cross an dhow we want to cross – get lost, we’re going to get our approvals through the usual means and the public be damned.

    Dominion is way too big for their pants and most of the time they do not have to put up with the pesky public.. they just make nice-nice with the General Assembly and help staff the SCC.

    how about them apples?

  2. Who wrote this? Kinda arrogant to tell Wintergreen property owners sitting way up on a mountain not to be concerned about permanent residents in the valleys.

    • Peter, no intent to try to be anonymous. I didn’t put my own byline on and then I hit Jim with a late edit. I’m not telling the landowners on the mountain not to care about the valley residents. I’m telling them that with our property values already depressed due to the weak economy and shaky consumer confidence, the pipeline is likely to do them far more good than harm. Frankly, once built and buried, it will only affect landowners directly in its path.

  3. Larry, you are writing with deliberate bias the way Peter does automatically. I expect you to pick the facts you like, but here you’ve made up a few. You say, “they do not seek willing seller/willing buyer transactions nor do they make much effort to use existing rights-of-ways – they just tell landowners to bend over … and be still. . . . Dominion is way too big for their pants and most of the time they do not have to put up with the pesky public.. they just make nice-nice with the General Assembly and help staff the SCC.” Well, they DO seek willing transactions, and most of the land will probably be purchased that way, but there are always a few holdouts either for a higher price than it’s worth or on principle. As for “help staff the SCC” you’re just castigating some good people who work down there, who bend over backwards not to have any conflict of interest; you just don’t like the fact that they have statutory duties to carry out. Your problem is simple: anything less than the government running our utilities fills you with distrust – damn, look at what we have and then try to describe a BETTER alternative.

    Jim, the one thing you failed to note: the only place a buried pipeline shows on the surface is where it cuts through a forest and there is, as you say, a green swath there. The problem is, most of those small farms in hilly Nelson County have been abandoned and the only areas that haven’t reverted to forest are the second-home-getaway-land in the valleys; contrast that with the August County side where wide fields dominate all the way up to BR at Sherando and the pipeline will be near-invisible. Most Wintergreen owners look south and east, into Nelson County.

    • There is no way that Dominion should be allowed to make any political contributions or give any gifts to politicians or state / local government employees. Having a regulated monopoly with heavy influence over eminent domain as the largest corporate donor to Virginia’s politicians is absolutely absurd.

    • Perhaps you are right Acbar – but let me tell you that news reports I read said that Dominion STARTED discussions with land owners by reminding them that they had the right of Eminent Domain.

      If that’s true -it fits in with how they seem to comport themselves in general from what I read in the papers.

      I don’t have a problem with a pipeline. I think it is largely innocuous and less intrusive than a 250kv line.

      having said that – I still think Dominion could do a helluva lot better process that drawing a line on a map and telling people they have the right of eminent domain and send people to survey carrying that message.

      how about it. am I still wrong?

    • Acbar – I’d like to get your opinion on something:

      Why EPA’s alleged ‘war on coal’ may actually be a war on energy waste

      http://goo.gl/wuAXky

      the premise of this article is that CPP was not about cutting coal use but really about using less energy.

      ” The C2ES analysis examined the results of six economic models which were used to identify “least-cost pathways” for how the Clean Power Plan might be implemented. And it found that “all studies project that energy efficiency will be the most used and least-cost option to implement the plan.”

      “The studies also show that the effect of energy efficiency is large enough that overall electricity consumption declines,”

      so my question for you – how does a company who makes their money selling energy – react to a plan – to cut energy use?

      ” A similar analysis last year, by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, found that the nation’s overall carbon emissions could shrink by 26 percent by the year 2030 if all states put in place a suite of four major energy-efficiency measures — a pretty dramatic level of savings.

      The research on energy efficiency, explains C2Es president Bob Perciasepe, “really makes it clear that no matter how people have started to look at this, it almost always turns out to be the most cost-effective approach.”

      Is Dominion Power trying to sell incandescent bulbs in an LED world?

  4. This piece was penned by Stephen Haner. I forgot to add his byline. That oversight has been corrected.

  5. There is a natural gas pipeline running straight through Great Falls, VA. Most is buried, some is not. There is a path through people’s yards, etc that can be readily seen.

    Somehow our property values survived.

  6. Wintergreen residents should do something I wished the residents of Great Falls had done when the gas pipeline was built …

    Insist that the pipeline construction company builds a bike / running / walking path along the right of way of the pipeline.

    • I LIKE the way that Don thinks… why not sweeten the pot with a “Trans Virginia Greenway”? that would be a helluva bribe.. and I’d sure go for it.

      😉

  7. Acbar,
    OF COURSE I write with a deliberate bias. This is a BLOG for Chrissakes!

  8. re: ” s for “help staff the SCC” you’re just castigating some good people who work down there, who bend over backwards not to have any conflict of interest; you just don’t like the fact that they have statutory duties to carry out.”

    I don’t like the way the SCC weighed in on the CPP – and I suspect DOminion influence on the issue –

    “conflict” – yes.. If Dominion is wanting to build a pipeline so they can export the natural gas – yes that’s a conflict… in my book because they’re claiming the line is justified in using eminent domain because it serves the public.

    If they want to export the fuel – it’s not to serve the public and they should not have the ability to use eminent domain.

    How clear is Dominion about that issue?

    and tell me this – if you build a pipeline to SE Va yet you say the only way to serve hampton is to build a 25oKV line over the James – where is the alternative of taking the pipeline to Hampton and building more natural gas plants – instead of exporting the nat gas?

    these are questions – that Dominion does not even acknowledge much less answer.

    they are a public service utility that has private investors. Do you think that is a conflict?

  9. The Clean Power Plan can be boiled down to one sentence: Dump coal and burn gas. The EPA has been shoving natural gas at the American economy the way a pusher sells crack. Which is why, to the dismay of many environmentalists, the U.S. agencies have been supportive of fracking and why I expect EPA and FERC to support additional pipeline projects. If Keystone was a gas pipeline, it would be under construction. If you want to get the carbon levels down without subjecting our economy to the irregularity of wind and sunlight, the answer is gas and nuclear.

    Which brings us to the James River transmission line which is needed to bring NUCLEAR power to the Peninsula to replace a COAL plant that is being retired.

    • did you read the article Acbar?

      ” The reason energy efficiency could play such a big role turns on the way the Clean Power Plan is designed. The regulation would set targets for states to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, but then allow the states to reach these goals by drawing on a blend of four separate approaches or “building blocks.” Those include not only switching to more natural gas and renewables but also finding ways to use less energy overall to achieve the same goals — in other words, increasing efficiency. The EPA assumed that states might be able to increase overall energy efficiency by as much as 1.5 percent per year.”

      the article implies that a good amount of the reductions can be met by energy efficiency but that it will result in less electricity consumed. I can see where that part of it is not a happy dance for Dominion and it’s investors.

      in terms of NUKE and the James River – I do not buy it and here’s why. Where is the NUKE currently supply power to – that it won’t be if it is re-directed?

      are we presuming that the NUKEs are not already running at 100% to provide power to their existing service area?

      or is this question none of anyone’s business because Dominion can do what they want without explaining it to the public and simply determine what they want without justifying it?

      • Larry, you can’t be this dense in real life. Dominion is building massive natural gas plants west of the James, so there will be no problem sending supply from the Surry reactors east of the James……There is this thing called the grid — power plants are interconnected and the juice can flow all over the place! You should check it out!

        • I’m not dense Steve – why divert Nuke power from one area to another and have to fill in where the Nuke used to supply – as opposed to building new nat gas in the area where the coal plant is being retired?

          In other words – if they already have the ability to supply natural gas to that region – why build a powerline to essentially divert power from an already-committed capacity nuke plant?

          and you said “grid” and I say the same thing. they did not need that powerline when they had a coal plant – and if they replace the coal plant with a natural gas plant – why the need for the new line?

          In other words – how has Dominion actually justified the need other than to to warn doom & gloom if they are not allowed to do it?

          they owe the public a legitimate justification for what they want to do beyond crying wolf…. and essentially saying “it’s none of your business..just do what we want or risk rolling blackouts”.

          that’s NOT you conduct a legitimate public process.

          you should read up on that Steve.. there actually is a discipline that teaches how to properly engage the public.

          Dominion thinks this is beneath them. Basically they say “this is our plan that we are going to be approved to do and all we are doing to putting out the info that the regulators require us to do and oh by the way – we will use Eminent Domain if we have to”.

  10. “The Clean Power Plan can be boiled down to one sentence: Dump coal and burn gas. ”

    Utter nonsense. The CPP is to push, eventually, to renewables.

    • You think Nelson County is in an uproar now, try to build turbines along the Blue Ridge Parkway! Those would devastate the property values in Wintergreen. More evidence that those who oppose the pipeline really haven’t thought this through.

      • who is proposing to build turbines on the Blue Ridge Parkway? There are a ton of mountains over there that are NOT the BRP so why bring that canard up to start with?

        this is Dominion’s tactics that get them in trouble with the public. Instead of legitimately and honestly deal with the issue and explain and justify their actions they “warn” the public that if they don’t get the solution they want – that a worst case will ensue. That’ s a totally bogus way to engage the public.

      • Steve – In general I have no problem with the siting of powerlines nor pipelines and I don’t buy the argument that they will lower property values in certain locale or region.

        But I DO favor that the entity that is proposed the line – address that issue in their propose substantively – and what I mean by that is not a statement from Dominion that property values will not be affect -not even from an appraiser if he/she are paid for by Dominion and provide their work-product to Dominion. What they should want is a process that is above reproach – and there are ways to achieve that – one would be to provide the money to hire an independent appraiser whose work product goes to the regulators not embedded in Dominion’s own proposal.

        Next, Dominion is a company with fundamental conflicts between it’s public service role and it’s corporate role to be responsible to it’s investors – and it needs to fully disclose it’s intentions conduct market-based for-profit activities as part of any proposal that is being presented as a public utility proposal.

        Next, when they cannot arrive at a willing-seller/willing-buyer settlement – it needs to be turned over to an independent appraisal arbiter.

        In other words – Dominion shows up initially with a proposal for a transaction and they tell the property owner than if they cannot reach an agreement – it will be turned over to an independent arbiter.

        Next – when Dominion makes a proposal – it needs to provide alternative OPTIONS like VDOT is required to do – like with US 460 – which required the “Least Environmentally Damaging Practicable Alternative” and this job should also be given to an independent entity.

        The public will have a right to all the information that is being generated and be allowed to make substantiative comments that must be fairly answered.

        In other words – Dominion owes the public a legitimate and fair process.

        And this is the reason why they are running into opposition – it’s the perception that they are arrogant and are behaving imperiously.

        They basically act like the only folks they need to answer to are FERC and the SCC and that they have the ability to use eminent domain anytime, in their view, they no longer want to bargain with a property owner.

  11. everyone – read the article:

    Why EPA’s alleged ‘war on coal’ may actually be a war on energy waste

    the point being made is that energy efficiency will result in less demand for electricity.

    Does Dominion power and it’s investors have an essential conflict in any proposal to reduce consumption of electricity?

    I’m starting to think that this is what the opposition to CPP is –

  12. re: ” . If Keystone was a gas pipeline, it would be under construction. If you want to get the carbon levels down without subjecting our economy to the irregularity of wind and sunlight, the answer is gas and nuclear.”

    nope.

    the problem is that pipeline companies have the power of eminent domain if they are going to provide a public need.

    when a company wants to build a pipeline to establish a for-profit business selling product – it’s no longer a public service corporation and no longer is entitled to use eminent domain.

    that’s the problem with Keystone and until Dominion is clear about their intentions – a question that needs to be answered before Dominion goes telling property owners that they can condemn their land.

    Even though the General Assembly recently made changes to Virginia’s eminent domain law to tighten up the part about condemning one persons land for another person’s economic development but – don’t expect them to hold Dominion to that standard, They probably have an exemption but the opponents are aware of this issue and if it goes to court – Dominion may be in a pickle.

  13. The real elephant in the room here is the abuse of power through eminent domain. The fact is, Dominion is not only interested in getting gas to the coast to their liquefication plant. There are many solutions to this challenge with little or no use of eminent domain.

    The fact is, Dominion is equally interested in owning the right-of-way. Simply put, this is a landgrab. Rights of Way and easements are listed as assets in Dominion’s own filings. The only opportunity to get a continuous stretch of easements across private land for hundreds of miles is when you make the argument that it is in the Public’s best interest to seize that land from its rightful holders.

    But Dominion is not a public utility. It is a private company pursuing it’s own private for-profit gains. I am an ardent capitalist. And I wholly support for-profit companies pursuing their for-profit aims and benefits to their shareholders. But I cannot imagine that we, as citizens, would ever support our State telling us that we must give up our rights, our opportunities, our freedoms, our land, to benefit the private aims of others. This not unlike taking someone’s property to build a shopping mall.

    There is no ability to demonstrate public “need” for this pipeline. There are many other pipelines being built and many other options for power and fuel. Even if you could argue public need, there is no ability to demonstrate that this is the only possible solution to get the gas to the coast. Both a clear and demonstratable public need and the absence of any other possible solution are fundamental requirements which must be demonstrated before the state should authorize any seizure of private land.

    I am all for the state negotiating with dominion to position the pipeline along our existing utility easements and rights-of-way or even our interstate system. But regardless of whether this is my land, or your land, or the land of a citizen halfway across the country, I would never support the state authorizing the extraordinary power of eminent domain without meeting the basic requirements above.

    • It is in my opinion also. Dominion , did not start off truly negotiating – they started off being perceived as saying – “come to terms with us or we’ll use eminent domain and oh by the way in 2004 – we got to right to come on your property no matter what you want”.

      and there is a certain delicious irony because businesses like Dominion have stoked the anti-govt political fires with anti-regulation, “war on coal”, “war on business” – rhetoric while apparently oblivious to many Conservatives increasing hostility to govt and govt-enabled eminent domain and perceived abuses like Kelo.

      what exactly gives ANY business the RIGHT to force any property owner to sell their land in the first place?

      Who gives Dominion Power the right to come into your living room – and tell you that you can “cooperate” and sell at THEIR offer price “willingly” or at the end -they’ll get your land anyhow.

      It’s the very same problem that VDOT has had – EXCEPT VDOT actually does have a de-facto “public need” mission – AND they have no profit motive.
      Even then, VDOT has been brushed back by the courts for their abuses.

      Dominion could take the high ground. The could certify that the gas will never be used for anything other than electricity generation and that all cases where agreement cannot be reached – the transaction will be turned over to independent arbitrators who do not report to Dominion in any way.

      To this point they have NOT conducted themselves in that way – at all in my view – just looking at the news reports. PR to Dominion apparently stands for Pretty Rude.

      This is a simple thing that Dominion folks either don’t get or don’t care to get – and that is they cannot be perceived as conducting themselves in such an hostile and adversarial way – without making people mad. Many people are reasonable – if they are approached in an earnest and polite manner. They do not care for smart-a$$es who throw their weight around… much less that kind of behavior with regard to threatening their property rights.

      yes – there are always going to be some who are not interested from day one and are not about to cooperate – no matter what. that’s true.

      but perhaps what Dominion’s goal should be is a Newspaper Headline that says: ” 80% have reached agreement with Dominion, some say they’ve been treated fair”, – instead of ” Large numbers of property owners organizing and threatening to sue.

      My view – Dominion acts too big for their pants ad cozies up to the SCC and General Assembly much more than I’m comfortable with and they show little willingness to work with people trying to install solar nor property owners.

      there is LOTS and LOTS of room to improve.

      there are also LOTS of good people working for Dominion – that work hard, do their jobs well , work their butts off during power outages and are contributing members of their communities – which makes this aspect all the more unfortunate and really just not very smart.

  14. Not sure that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is a way to get gas to Dominion’s LNG facility at Cove Point, Md.

    It is served by existing pipelines. One (Transco) goes from the Gulf Coast to the north east. There is also an older pipeline that goes from Penna. where there is a lot of fracking to the Bay.

    Maybe the ACC pipeline could intersect the Transco one (if that is it) and some gas could go to Cove Point.

    My understanding, though, is that ACC is not being built to serve Cove Point. Perhaps other export facilities although Dominion vehemently denies it.

  15. this is a simple thing to clarify. Dominion certifies in their proposal that the only purpose of the pipeline is to supply natural gas electric plants and not for export, period.

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