The People vs. The Pipeline

Published: Oct. 9, 2014 at 6:25 PM EDT
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A David versus Goliath battle is brewing in Augusta County.

The proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline is supposed to bring clean and efficient energy up and down the east coast, however, some "Davids" in the Valley are afraid it's going to cause Goliath-sized problems.

The quiet, green, and serene land may be nothing but a pipe dream for Travis Geary. He and his family has owned the land for more than 30 years.

"This is our family's heritage, it's our history, it's our livelihood right now and it's our wife's and mine's future," said Geary.

He and his wife, Sarah, said they planned to spend their lives here, but now they feel like their future may be stolen from them.

And here's why:

"It is my great pleasure to join the governor today in announcing one of the most important economic development projects in many decades in the entire mid-Atlantic region. What we are calling the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is an energy superhighway as the governor mentioned that will help Virginia, North Carolina, and West Virginia take advantage of our nation's increasingly abundant supply of clean, affordable natural gas," said Dominion Resources CEO Tom Farrell.

The pipeline will run more than 500 miles through three states and through Augusta County. Currently, it's projected to go right through the Gearys' land.

"That was a shock," said Sarah Geary.

"Yeah, it was a shock, the wind was taken out of my sails," explained Travis, "I vowed that this land would never leave my family's hand, but if this pipeline goes through, I don't want it."

The Gearys own more than 100 acres and they refuse to give it up.

"The first thing I thought of, our last four years, our dreams are shattered, they're gone. I don't want the land with all of the restrictions and the devastation that this pipeline's going to bring," said Travis.

He's not just worried about devastation to the land. The pipeline is projected to run near water sources for those who live in and around Augusta County.

Bill Scarpinato, the environmental manager for the pipeline route, said there shouldn't be any health concerns.

"We have looked at the proposed study corridor as it relates to the watershed that the reservoir is in, and we are outside that watershed, but nonetheless the regulatory requirements around building a pipeline with respect to erosion and sediment that might potentially come from that pipeline are very rigorous," said Scarpinato.

Besides health issues, safety is another concern. More than 100 serious incidents have occurred from gas transmission lines since 1994, according to the Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

"That scares me to death, my brother lives right down the road. His son is 7 or 8 months old now. It's going to run right by his house. He doesn't have a large farm. His house is gone if that happens," said Travis Geary.

Brittany Moody, the engineering manager for the pipeline project, said safety is Dominion's top priority.

"We also 100 percent X-ray all of our welds, make sure that the welds are sound, we hydrostatically test the pipeline at a pressure greater than what the pipeline will operate at and of course there are safety factors and everything else built into the design of the pipeline as well," said Moody.

While the Gearys are worried about their landscape, Denise Craig said she worries about her property value.

Her neighbors told her the pipeline would run close very close to or underneath her house. The Craigs have lived in their home for years and invested thousands of dollars into their home.

"This is our house. Me and my husband remodeled this home. Everything here is new from me and my husband and we worked hard to do this and it could be taken away from us, we don't know," said Craig.

Dominion representatives say any impact to property values would recover over time, but that's something the Gearys won't take for an answer.

Travis Geary said his family has had land taken from them before through eminent domain and that's something he won't stand for this time.

"We're not ready to move and we're not going to stand for them using the club of eminent domain to bludgeon us into submission," said Geary.

He said he plans to get a lawyer and do what ever he can to fight the pipeline from running through his property. He calls it a David and Goliath battle and believes he has a chance.

"Strong, hopeful, and ready for a fight," said Sarah Geary.

"I feel strong but just because of necessity. We've got no other option," continued Travis Geary.

He hopes others will join his fight so this land doesn't become a pipe dream.

Dominion said it only plans to use imminent domain as a last resort after the application for the line is approved. Construction could begin in late 2016. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has the final decision on whether the pipeline will be built.