The News & Advance
by Emily Brown
Ward Burton, a southern Virginia resident whose wildlife foundation is located on the route of the proposed 600-mile, three-state Atlantic Coast Pipeline, was completely opposed to the project when he first was contacted about it.
After meeting with ACP officials, however, Burton has changed his tune.
“It didn’t take me long to realize that ACP is as concerned about the environmental impact as I was,” Burton said. “They really want to leave a sound, environmentally positive footprint. … What I perceived to be a complete negative turned into a complete positive.”
Burton, the founder and president of the Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation — an organization that owns and manages more than 4,000 acres of land for the purpose of diversifying wildlife habitats through forestry stewardship and wetland creation — now believes the Atlantic Coast Pipeline actually will enhance the environmental value of the land, particularly through the project’s recently announced Pollinator Habitat Initiative.
In a video released last week, ACP announced it is seeking to address the global crisis of declining pollinator populations by creating pollinator habitats along the route of the proposed pipeline.
As a lifelong conservationist who has extensive experience planting similar habitats on his land in the past, Burton said, “I know that it works.”
“To use the [route] easements like this is a no-brainer for me,” said Burton, whose wildlife foundation will be part of the ACP Pollinator Habitat Initiative.
Areas of the foundation’s two parcels that will be crossed by the pipeline will become pollinator habitats.
Not everyone is happy with the most recent development for the ACP, though.
“The first rule of restoration is to protect what you have, to preserve all the cogs and wheels of the natural systems in place,” said Ernie Reed, president of anti-pipeline group Friends of Nelson, in an email. “This is akin to a proposal to level the natural history museum, destroy its entire contents and plumbing and then throw back a bone in its wake.”
Reed and other opponents believe the pipeline would cause extensive damage to the environment.
According to a news release about the initiative, about 750 acres of suitable locations along roughly 50 miles of the proposed pipeline route in North Carolina and southern Virginia have been identified as the most suitable areas for the pollinator habitats.
“This is an initiative that is trying to address a serious environmental problem,” said Aaron Ruby, a spokesman for Dominion Energy, the lead developer of the ACP, in an interview.
According to the Center for Pollinator Research at Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, pollinators are in decline across the globe. In the United States, beekeepers have lost about 30 percent of their colonies every year since 2006, which can be attributed to a number of stressors such as parasites, pesticides and increased land use.
Operations in Virginia with five or more colonies of honey bees suffered an 18 percent loss between January and March of 2017, according to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Sciences.
“We don’t have the opportunities for the native grasses and wildflowers to grow and thrive as they have in the past,” said Bob Glennon, a private lands biologist for Virginia Tech’s Conservation Management Institute who helped develop the ACP program.
He explained the opportunities for such plants aren’t as plentiful because appropriate land is being used for other purposes, such as farming.
The decline in pollinator populations is an issue because it directly affects residents, Glennon explained.
The Center for Pollinator Research says pollinators are necessary for three-fourths of major food crops.
According to the VDACS website, farmers depend on pollinators to produce important Virginia crops such as apples, pumpkins, watermelons, cucumbers, squash and berries.
Glennon added pollinators also are necessary to produce food for animals.
“It’s not just the human foods here involved — it’s also all the wildlife food,” he said.
The habitats that will be part of the program will give pollinators an undisturbed place to nest, too, Glennon explained.
According to Dominion, the project is voluntary, and officials have reached out to landowners whose land would be suitable for pollinator habitats to gauge their interest.
Dozens of native seed mixes have been developed for the program by Glennon and other wildlife experts, including native grasses such as Little Bluestem and Beaked Panicum, and wildflowers such as Partridge Peas and Black-Eyed Susans.
According to Glennon, the seed mixes consist of a variety of plants that bloom at different times, allowing insects to pollinate crops constantly.
“It doesn’t help if you fill your refrigerator on the first of the month if the food’s all going to be rotten by the 10th of the month,” Glennon said, emphasizing the importance of the sequence of flowering periods among plants included in the seed mixes that will be used.
Glennon said the Atlantic Coast Pipeline initiative will take extensive work by contractors to not only establish the habitats but also to maintain them. Dominion officials aren’t worried, however.
“This is a long-term commitment, but it’s a commitment that our company’s familiar with,” Ruby said in an interview.
To date, Dominion has created more than 43,000 acres of pollinator habitats along existing electric transmission and distribution rights of way.
“We’re excited to build on that progress and continue doing our part to improve our region’s natural environment,” said Pamela Faggert, Dominion’s chief environmental officer and senior vice president for sustainability, in the release about the company’s new initiative.
For more information about the Atlantic Coast Pipeline Pollinator Habitat Initiative, visit atlanticcoastpipeline.com/pollinator.
Read the full story in The News & Advance.