Environmental concerns mean more trouble for pipeline
by Staff Writer
DAVIDSON – Piedmont Natural Gas’ proposed pipeline raised ire from Davidson College as soon as it became public in January, but Davidson town officials are now saying the utility must adjust to follow town regulations and protect the environment.
The 128-mile line would run from near Interstate 77 in Huntersville, through Iredell, Mecklenburg, Cabarrus and seven other counties to Piedmont’s Sutton power plant in Wilmington.
The 30-inch portion of the line that would go through Davidson cuts across the college’s ecological preserve. College officials believe the line would disturb natural resources and ongoing experiments.
Piedmont representatives are working with the college and town, Piedmont spokesperson David Trusty and Davidson College spokesperson Bill Giduz said.
“Certainly, we’re taking a look at alternative routes,” Trusty said.
Davidson Planning Manager Lauren Blackburn told the company in a Feb. 23 email to Piedmont that the pipeline must follow town ordinances in Davidson’s planning jurisdiction, specifically the town’s tree preservation, landscaping and stream buffer regulations.
Property owners must acquire a permit to remove trees in Davidson. The proposed path would require cutting down stream side trees. Permits are granted if a tree is dead or diseased, present a significant safety or structural hazard or must be removed for construction activities.
Davidson’s ordinance “requires that natural vegetation be preserved as much as possible within all areas of the 100-foot stream buffer,” Blackburn wrote.
Piedmont plans to run the pipeline down the west bank of the West Branch Creek, which Davidson Lands Conservancy Director Roy Alexander says is made up of mature, valuable woodlands that should not be disturbed.
The town and conservancy are asking Piedmont to run the line along the creek’s east bank, bordering the former Abersham property and Fisher Farm Park.
Digging the pipeline down the west bank would mean “unnecessarily destroying a lot of our tree canopy, when there are readily available options,” Alexander said.
The pipeline would not disturb the clear, open space through the town-owned property and park, Davidson Parks and Recreation Manager Kathryn Spatz said.
Spatz said Mecklenburg County supports the proposal to move the pipeline to the east bank.
Town and Piedmont representatives said they are waiting on communication with the North Carolina Ecosystem Enhancement Program (EEP) which holds an easement to restore a tributary stream off the east bank of the creek. The easement would prohibit the pipeline from crossing the creek. EEP spokesperson Tad Boggs said they had not received the required written request from the town to change the easement.
Alexander said the pipeline could still be largely built down the east bank, with an added crossing if the EEP does not allow the pipeline to cross the stream.
The pipeline will have to cross the West Branch creek no matter what side it runs down, Alexander said.
“We’re hopeful that we can find a solution,” Trusty said. “Until that point, we continue to evaluate.”