The Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC hosted a construction expo in Fishersville on Thursday, December 8 to garner support and highlight employment opportunities for area workers in communities along the controversial project’s route. WMRA's Jessie Knadler reports.
The Augusta Expo in Fishersville was full of burly men in Carhartt coats, ball caps and work boots on Thursday. Trades and craftsmen turned out to learn more about how to get a job working on the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
MATTHEW YONKA: We’re gonna need laborers, pipe fitters, welders. We’re going to need electricians.
Matthew Yonka is the president of the Virginia State Building and Construction Trades Council, a group that represents unions throughout the state. He was on hand to take applications from workers interested in the project.
YONKA: It’s important that people know it’s not just people who are already trained in those areas, but also people who don’t have any training at all. We’re willing to bring those folks in, give them a good job, with good pay, good benefits, and then train them on top of that.
Spring Ridge Constructors was selected by Dominion as the lead contractor for the natural gas pipeline. It’s comprised of four national pipeline construction companies. The plan is to subcontract at the local level for each leg of the project. Dominion estimates that approximately 7,200 construction workers will be needed during peak construction, with 50 percent of the craft and trade workers hired through local unions. They anticipate the project will generate $2.7 billion in economic activity.
DANIEL HATTER: We’re specialized welders, orbital welding.
Daniel Hatter came out to make face-to-face contact with construction reps and register his services online.
HATTER: We’d help build the compressor stations or any sub assemblies or mainline transmission line.
I asked him what it would mean to get hired.
HATTER: What it would mean is we’d get to put a lot of people in Virginia to work. As a contractor, I’m a member of Local Union 10 out of Roanoke, Virginia, we’d be able to take some of our membership and do a lot of the work that’s coming through here and once the pipeline is in, any of the substations or compressor stations have continued employment doing maintenance. That’s the kind of work as a contractor we’re looking for.
Crafts and tradesmen aren’t the only ones who might benefit from the project. Jerry Conner, an operating engineer union member, explains.
JERRY CONNER: We’re going to need a lot of straw when it’s over with. We’ve got to make it look like nothing ever happened. A lot of these farmers might have hundreds and hundreds of bails of straw. Usually it’s no good for bedding for their animals, but they can sell it here because we’ll be using a lot of that kind of stuff.
The pipeline, which is still in the permitting phase of approval, remains controversial. “No Pipeline” signs are a common sight in Augusta County where the pipeline is supposed to cut a 55-mile swath, more than any other region in the state. So in some ways the Expo represents a counter-narrative to all the protests over the past year. When asked if they are concerned about pushback from the wider community, almost all of the tradesmen I spoke to gave an emphatic no.
CONNER: Not at all. I think it’s a great thing. It’s the safest way to move this product. Everybody wants nice automobiles and nice clothes. Guess what? It’s all made out of petroleum.
Still, some understand why this natural gas pipeline is controversial, given the reputation of pipelines nationwide that carry petroleum products.
UNNAMED CRANE OPERATOR: It’s a necessary evil.
This gentleman is a retired crane operator who’s worked on pipelines in the past. He asked not to give his name.
UNNAMED CRANE OPERATOR: You gonna have oil spills. You gonna have a blow-up of a pipeline somewhere or another sometime. You see it on the news all the time. But you have to have infrastructure. If you don’t, you’re going to be stagnant. That’s what our country is right now, we’re stagnant….But I don’t want a pipeline in my backyard.
Pending regulatory approval, construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is set to begin late next year.