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Farmer doesn’t want pipeline workers in his home during pandemic

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NASHVILLE — A farmer living along the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline route is asking Nash County officials to halt appraisers from entering his home during a statewide stay-at-home order meant to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Pipeline representatives said late last week that they’ve already postponed appraisals during the coronavirus pandemic.

Marvin Winstead, founder of Nash Stop the Pipeline, has asked the Nash County Board of Commissioners to reject the pipeline project, citing reductions in safety measures and alleged harassment of landowners, according to a letter delivered to the board April 3. The Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, one of several organizations opposed to construction of the 600-mile natural gas pipeline planned by power utility giants Dominion Energy and Duke Energy, released the letter to media outlets April 7.

“Over the last few days I have been harassed by Dominion attorneys to allow out-of-state assessors onto my property and even into my home as part of the ongoing eminent domain process,” Winstead states in the letter.

Winstead said he’s incensed by the notion of personal protective equipment-clad company appraisers seeking entry into his home.

“The risk presented by the COVID-19 virus matters little when it suits them,” Winstead said. “There is no excuse for their behavior.”

Winstead said the pipeline builders are bullying him, telling him April 3 that they would be on his property the next week. He said he’s keeping his gates locked.

The letter to the board also cited a recent order easing operator qualifications and training by the federal agency charged with maintaining pipeline safety.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration announced March 20 that because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, it would not be enforcing drug testing and other safety requirements.

Duke Energy spokeswoman Tammy McGee initially had no comment, but amended her statement after checking with Dominion attorneys.

“The project had planned a small number of appraisals in late March for certain properties in North Carolina, prior to the state’s stay-at-home order,” McGee said. “To accommodate concerns about the coronavirus, we agreed to indefinitely postpone the appraisals.”

Before scheduling appraisals, it’s standard practice to provide advance notice to landowners and coordinate with their attorneys if they have retained counsel, McGee said.

“Near the end of March, Mr. Winstead’s attorney asked that we not schedule a visit for his property, and we agreed,” McGee said. “No appraiser was dispatched or showed up on Winstead’s land. The ACP has successfully worked with thousands of property owners, treating them with dignity and respect.”

Louis Zeller, executive director of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, said the pipeline builders’ apathy is disheartening.

“The pipeline industry is showing callous disregard for public health in two ways: It excuses itself from safety regulations; meanwhile, it threatens contamination of residents, all during the ongoing COVID-19 public health crisis,” Zeller said.

Founded in 1984, the league is a regional grassroots organization with chapters along the pipeline route from Buckingham, Virginia, to Fayetteville.

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