Hayden’s Hopes: Pipelines and Politics

This article was written in response to a local issue regarding a natural gas pipeline. That issue is detailed by the Charlotte Observer here. A compromise has since been reached.

Pipelines and Politics

Note: I’ve been asked to comment on this issue this week. You can look for further columns of “Hayden’s Hopes” next week.

Violence is intrusion. It might be someone breaking into your house to steal your things, or a knife physically entering your body. Violence can, less literally, be committed by intrusion when one’s rights are encroached upon: violence is done to us, for example, in censorship, when the hand of another enters our text and redacts or alters our words.

It is no wonder, then, that talk of a natural gas pipeline through Davidson’s campus has aroused such wariness. It is because it is felt an intrusion, and as such resembles other forms of violence, in form and intent.

Last week, the College was notified that Piedmont Natural Gas (PNG) is planning to build a natural gas pipeline through College property, notably, through the Ecological Preserve. This pipeline is part of a larger, regional network stretching all the way to Wilmington. The plans to build this pipeline have been known for years; however, the actual route of the pipeline was only revealed last week.

This revelation comes after years of silence from PNG. As far back as July 2010, the College asked PNG what its plans were for the pipeline, receiving no answer—in spite of the fact that PNG was on our land, cutting down our trees, having already made up its mind, without the input of the College, where the pipeline would go.

Call that what you will legally, but it is clearly not the kind of conduct that we would expect from someone you would want to work with. It seems obvious that Davidson, which knows the Ecological Preserve best, could have been a valuable partner in planning where the pipeline would go. PNG purposefully ignored this possibility, instead opting for what was easiest for them. PNG forced Davidson into confrontation. If that is what they seek, I hope they get it.

As in the case of the Keystone pipeline, the course of the pipeline is the most objectionable element of the plan.

There already exists a PNG pipeline corridor through town, but it—for reasons that have not been revealed—is apparently unsuitable, prompting the need for a new pipeline. It would require a 70-foot easement all around the pipeline.

As a pragmatist, I do not understand why PNG has not sought a route that seems to unnecessarily destroy swathes of tree canopy, destroying biodiversity on Davidson’s campus and in the town. As the Davidson Lands Conservancy has pointed out, the pipeline could be sited alongside the east bank of the Rocky River, rather than the west, or could be moved to the middle of a greenway (which would be cleared of canopy anyways, and is already planned).

Finally, as a student at Davidson College, I know how much the experience of my peers in the Biology Department is enriched by having the Ecological Preserve as a research site. At least four long-term projects, in plant ecology, wildlife conservation, avian ecology, and insect ecology, are conducted on the Preserve. It is an invaluable resource to the Biology Department, which is one of the best of its kind. Disturbing the Preserve would unnecessarily disrupt these studies.

At this point it is not clear what will come next. If PNG can prove that the route through the Preserve is in the best interests of the people, it can seize the land by eminent domain. But my intuition, at least, whispers: if this really was the best route, why was it researched in secret?

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