ROCKY MOUNT — An effort by Roanoke Gas Co. to interconnect with the Mountain Valley Pipeline to bring natural gas to Franklin County inched forward Tuesday night.

The county planning commission voted 5-0, with two members absent, to recommend approval of a special use permit that would allow Roanoke Gas to build and operate a gate station on a 2.9-acre parcel in the county’s Summit View Business Park.

“The purpose of the station is to allow the interconnection of future Roanoke Gas distribution lines with the Mountain Valley Pipeline currently under construction within Summit View,” says a report prepared by county staff. “The station also serves a pressure reduction role, allowing the high pressure natural gas in the Mountain Valley Pipeline to be reduced to a pressure that is suitable for distribution to Roanoke Gas customers.”

Chairman Earl Webb said in the 20 years he’s been on the planning commission, there has been a desire to bring natural gas to the county.

“This is probably the only shot we’re going to get to do it,” he said. “I don’t see how we can pass it up.”

The special use permit will go to the board of supervisors for its consideration in November.

A number of residents spoke during a public hearing and encouraged the board to deny the special use permit. Many of them were opponents of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, and made their arguments based on concerns about the project.

Webb reminded the audience that the commission was considering granting a special use permit to Roanoke Gas, not entering into an agreement with Mountain Valley Pipeline.

“This is not a referendum on Mountain Valley Pipeline,” he said.

Edward Murray of Rocky Mount said he believed the desire to build a gate station on this land was an effort to “perpetuate the myth” that the pipeline has a public benefit.

Judy Sink, whose property is bordered by Summit View, said the county had given her a “royal screw over” when it approved that project, and was poised to do the same by providing a special use permit to Roanoke Gas.

The staff report said the portion of the gate nearest to the Sink property would be within approximately 210 feet.

Sink invited members of the planning commission to visit her home to see what it’s like to live so close to the park, amid what she called chaos.

“You have no idea the reality of the situation created for us and the residents of Brick Church [Road].” Sink said. “Now you want to add insult to injury by allowing this gas gate?”

Jim Shockley, vice president of operations for Roanoke Gas, said the facility would be a $2.2 million investment for Roanoke Gas. If approved, Shockley said, he expected construction would begin in the spring of 2019.

Natural gas is an important factor in economic development, Shockley said, arguing it would be valuable in the county’s promotion of Summit View.

Shockley tried to ease the concerns of residents who spoke at the meeting, answering questions about noise, lights, smells and safety.

He noted that the company owns and operates nine of these facilities and has never had a safety incident at any of them.

In its application letter, Roanoke Gas proposed purchasing the 2.9 acres of property needed for the gate station from the county.

The county board of supervisors had previously considered transferring an approximately 2-acre parcel of land at no cost to Roanoke Gas for the construction of a natural gas gate station.

But the land transfer failed to gain support at a July meeting, where the board tabled the issue. During a public comment period at that meeting, county residents said they felt the land shouldn’t be given to Roanoke Gas for free.

The company plans to provide natural gas not only to tenants at Summit View, but also others along the U.S. 220 corridor and in Rocky Mount.

Roanoke Gas hopes to expand its service areas to other parts of Franklin County as well; an application to the State Corporation Commission is pending.

“The proposed gate station is critical to serving all of Franklin County,” the application for a special use permit states.

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Casey Fabris covers business for The Roanoke Times, where she has been a reporter since 2015. Previously, Casey covered Franklin County.

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