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Supervisors table tower permit

Supervisors in Buckingham tabled a special use permit for Dominion on Monday to construct a 195-foot microwave communications tower as part of its proposed 53,783-horsepower compressor station along the 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) project.

Morgan Dunnavant

The board’s consensus came after 13 people spoke in opposition to the permit, calling for Dominion — which is leading the ACP — to integrate fiber optic communications to the compressor station rather than what many of the speakers alleged to be outdated microwave technology. 

Speakers, many of whom live near the site of the supervisor-approved compressor station, decried the station and the project. Ella Rose called the station “a serious strike to my life,” while Ruby Laury said Dominion “reneged” on its initial proposal of using fiber optics.

In taking no action and tabling the permit request, supervisors agreed for Dominion to seek to investigate the possibility of connecting to fiber optic technology available in the area of the station, including working with Yogaville on a possible fiber optic connection to the station.

“I think the desire for the fiber is one more option for the compressor station to automatically yell for help if something goes wrong,” said District Four Supervisor Morgan Dunnavant. “And I do think it behooves you and it behooves us to inquire.”

“Is Dominion willing to work with the people of District Six? … They’re throwing a bone out there. Is that something that’s workable or not?” questioned District Three Supervisor Don Matthews following the last speaker during the public hearing on the sought permit.

Dominion is set to report back to supervisors regarding the request next month.

Dominion External Affairs Manager Emmett Toms noted that microwave technology was not wifi “and it’s not cell phone,” he said, responding to citizens’ concerns about interruptions in technology. “It’s a whole different communications system. It’s not a communications system of the past. We’re doing that at brand new stations at other places,” Toms said.

Don Matthews

“It’s like putting a 10-inch waterline out there on Route 56 and hope y’all come and bring us water,” he said, comparing fiber optic technology to a waterline. “We’re going to have to dig a well for domestic water there. There’s no domestic water lines up that way. Similarly, we don’t have fiber there and you need to get the carrier there … We tried to do fiberlink, fiberoptics years ago between our Innsbrook complex and our downtown Richmond complex, and basically we were denied, (citing) that we were competing with the telephone company. We cannot extend fiber past the entrance of our property, so that’s all we can do.”

According to Toms, Dominion has more outages “on fiber than we do on our microwave systems. And just think about it. Every logger that drops a culvert in the side of the road and cuts a ditch, there’s more fiber cuts every day. We have more underground cable outages than we do overhead cable outages. It is not as secure just because it’s in the ground. It’s susceptible to be out. Microwave is the most secure system we have.”

In January, county supervisors approved a special use permit for the hotly-contested station, slated to be constructed between Shelton Store and Union Hill Roads on Route 56. The proposed tower would be located near the station.

The compressor station — which would help push gas along the pipeline — was approved with 41 conditions, including horsepower limits, emergency response, air quality studies and emissions tests, installation of fire breaks, a backup emergency communications system, compliance with the permit, staffing and use of silencers. The staffing condition included one staff member to be on site 24/7 for the first year.

The 5-0-2 decision came after 76 people spoke during a public hearing on the permit application. Seven of the 76 spoke in favor of the permit while the remainder that spoke opposed the measure.

Before the permit hearing began, Toms noted the proposed unlit tower was moved 200 feet away from the nearest adjoining property line compared to the original site plan. The tower, he said, is designed to collapse in place in the event of its failure and includes provisions to allow emergency communications colocation with the county. The tower is needed for the station’s safety control system, he said.

He noted that microwave technology was the “most secure route,” noting Dominion was “not in the fiber optics business,” responding to prior comments during an earlier planning commission hearing on the permit.

Toms called the technology Dominion plans using at the station “triple-redundant,” reiterating that Dominion was “not in the competition with the phone company” regarding fiber optics.

The planning commission — which recommended approval of the permit on a 7-0-1 vote Board of Supervisors’ Representative Danny Allen abstaining — put 12 conditions on the permit, which include regulations on collapse of the tower, buffers, structure height and E-911 communications colocation.

On Monday, project opponents Kenda Hanuman, Heidi Berthoud and Quinn Robinson questioned Allen’s offering a motion during the May 8 board of supervisors’ meeting to schedule a public hearing for June 12 for the proposed tower. Allen, who represents the board of supervisors on the commission and District Seven on the board of supervisors, is an employee of Dominion.

“That’s not an issue,” Allen said, responding to Hanuman, “because all we did was schedule a meeting. I didn’t vote to approve or help anything … There’s a difference between voting on it and moving it to a public hearing.”

Berthoud noted that wifi was “unsecured,” “highly vulnerable” and “easily hackable.” She said fiber optics should be a required condition on the permit.

Joseph Jeeva Abbate said he came before supervisors to “offer a solution,” noting he’d performed work in telecommunications, noting microwave towers were hackable. “Fiber is more secure and it allows greater bandwidth and in the case of Yogaville, we were told four years ago that it would cost us $30,000 to connect with the CenturyLink switch which was about a half a mile from our location.”

Abbate said he negotiated with CenturyLink regarding the technology. “And CenturyLink did it for free. They went a little over a half mile, dug a deep trench and put that in and our cost did not change.”

He said Yogaville has a fiber optics connection with CenturyLink. “We’re 1,000 feet from the route. All you need to do is connect up to our fiber … You run it right to the compressor station and you’ve got a fiberlink, which is really secure, at least as an additional safety capacity.”