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Permit granted for tower

Supervisors in Buckingham County have given the green light to Dominion and Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC (ACP) to construct a 195-foot microwave communications tower as part of its proposed 53,783-horsepower compressor station along the 600-mile pipeline project.

Emmett Toms

The 5-0-2 decision to approve the special use permit Monday came after the board’s consensus to table the permit request in June 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— to integrate fiber optic communications to the compressor station rather than what many of the speakers alleged to be outdated microwave technology.

During the Monday meeting, four spoke during the meeting’s public comment period in opposition to the ACP and in favor of fiber optic communications at the site.

Chad Oba, the chair of Friends of Buckingham — a group in opposition to the project — said if the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved the ACP, the least supervisors could do is hold ACP to its promise to institute the “best technology to ensure our safety.”

The project’s infrastructure, Oba said, “may well be in place for the next 50 years,” she said, advocating for fiber optic communications.

Chad Oba

Quinn Robinson called the ACP “one of the most destructive things that’s ever happened to this county.”

“It does nothing for (Dominion),” District Two Supervisor Donnie Bryan said regarding fiber optic communications when offering his motion, from which District Seven Supervisor Danny Allen and District Three Supervisor Don Matthews abstained.

Dominion External Affairs Manager Emmett Toms explained during his presentation the layers of communication at the site, including microwave communications — the primary method — dial-up landline, cell phone communications by an ACP employee and satellite radio.

“You did meet our criteria of having three separate non-committed systems,” District Four Supervisor Morgan Dunnavant said following the presentation.

Donnie Bryan

Toms said “CenturyLink has no plans to extend fiber in this area … Our facility, all we need is a dial tone to send out a signal … Really fiber does nothing for us.”

“We don’t see the value in that,” Toms said of fiber optic technology. “We’re not sending data … That’s a whole different story. We’re basically looking for a dial tone to send an alarm.”

“We don’t go through the public system because of reliability,” Toms said, calling microwave dedicated and reliable. “It is a very reliable long distance point to point.”

“There are detriments to having a public system, and that’s what I wanted to express to you,” he said regarding relying on a public utility, offering an example of an outage.

Toms said when the ACP project first began, “we asked about putting fiber in with the pipe.” Toms said regulators denied the request.

Morgan Dunnavant

In a June 29 email from Toms to county officials, he said Dominion’s IT telecommunications team “had a meeting with some folks from CenturyLink earlier this week. The meeting was attended by Centurylink engineer and CenturyLink construction manager. Both of these gentlemen are quite familiar with the Buckingham CenturyLink capabilities in this area.”

Toms said the current wireline facilities meet the station’s current communication requirements. “As a secondary source, the third party-owned fiber gains no viable improvement in this area over the existing wireline. Microwave that is privately owned and controlled by Dominion Energy Transmission Infrastructure (DETI) is the first priority of choice for secure and reliable facility control at the (station).”

He said building fiber optic facilities into the station would cost ACP “considerably more than utilizing the existing wireline facilities as a secondary backup and is less secure and less reliable than our private system.”

“Even if CenturyLink were to build fiber into (the station), there are no guarantees that CenturyLink will start offering DSL service in that area. In other words, it is out of ACP’s control. It is strictly a business decision by CenturyLink.”

According to a PowerPoint presentation, Dominion Energy has built and utilized private communication systems for more than 50 years and has a large private communication network deployed in seven states.

The proposed tower, according to the presentation, is designed to meet the most stringent structural design standards in the industry.

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 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 in June began, Toms noted the proposed unlit tower was moved 200 feet away from the nearest adjoining property line compared to the original site plan.