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Va. NAACP supports some aspects of gas facility in historic black community, surprising opponents

Signs adorn mailboxes in Yogaville protesting the construction of a nearby pipeline through Buckingham County.
Signs adorn mailboxes in Yogaville protesting the construction of a nearby pipeline through Buckingham County. (Timothy C. Wright/For The Washington Post)
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RICHMOND — Opponents of a natural gas compressor station planned for a historic African American community expressed surprise Thursday to learn that the state conference of the NAACP has written to the governor in support of some aspects of the project.

In a letter dated Nov. 21, the state conference president, Kevin Chandler, told Gov. Ralph Northam (D) that his organization is “satisfied with the progress and efforts Dominion Energy has made to work with the key stakeholders and residents in the Union Hill community.”

Just five days before that, Chandler had issued a statement rebuking Northam for removing two members of the state Air Pollution Control Board ahead of a crucial vote on the compressor station.

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“The governor’s action may signal to other Board members that asking too many questions about an influential utility’s potential impact on a vulnerable historic community may lead to their removal,” Chandler said in the Nov. 16 statement.

Over the summer, Chandler called for a halt to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project that the compressor station would serve, saying the approval process “grossly neglects to consider the magnitude” of its impact.

Reached by phone Thursday, Chandler said he still would prefer that the project not be built. “If this thing goes forward we want to make sure that the community is safe,” Chandler said in the interview. “So, the letter states that we are satisfied with the progress they’ve made with those safety concerns.”

His letter notes that the utility had agreed to spend $5.1 million on community improvements in the area around the proposed facility, including beefing up emergency response capabilities.

“In addition, we are working with Dominion to partner on several other fronts such as STEM workforce development in the minority community and increasing community awareness on energy, sustainability and environmental justice issues,” Chandler said in the Nov. 21 letter, which was obtained Thursday by The Washington Post.

The position caught project opponents off guard. “We are feeling somewhat confused by this position at this time,” said Chad Oba, a resident of the Union Hill community in Buckingham County and a leader of opposition to the project. She said members of the NAACP have worked closely with the community against the compressor station “and we are hopeful we can expect their support in the future.”

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The compressor station is deemed crucial for completion of the 600-mile pipeline, which would stretch from West Virginia, across the middle of Virginia and into North Carolina. It is being built by a consortium of companies led by Dominion.

The state Air Pollution Control Board was set to vote on a key permit for the compressor station on Nov. 9 but delayed action after members expressed concern that the impact on the Union Hill community had not been fully considered. It rescheduled the vote for Dec. 10.

Just a week later, Northam infuriated project opponents by removing two of the six members of the board who were considering the permit. After being roundly criticized, including by the NAACP, Northam’s office said earlier this week that the two new members would not be seated until after the vote. His office said Thursday that the new members will be sworn in soon but will not vote Dec. 10.