Nansemond Indian Nation withdraws objections to pipeline expansion
The Virginia Reliability Project included doubling the size of about 50 miles of an existing, 70-year-old pipeline.
The Nansemond Indian Nation has withdrawn its objections to a pipeline expansion in Hampton Roads after negotiating with the project company.
The new agreement resolves more than a year of tension between the tribe and Canada-based TC Energy. The tribe raised concerns about the pipeline project’s potential impacts to its ancestral homelands in Hampton Roads.
TC Energy and the Nation said in a joint statement Wednesday that they “are pleased to announce a path forward for the Virginia Reliability Project that will help protect and preserve historic and cultural heritage resources in the project area.”
“The Nation’s sovereignty and protection of its history and resources are critically important to both parties, and together we are pleased our collaboration will help advance these important outcomes,” officials wrote.
The agreement comes after the Nation sent a formal grievance to company executives in late August, claiming TC Energy violated its own policies on Indigenous relations as well as human rights outlined by the United Nations.
The Virginia Reliability Project includes digging up and doubling the size of about 50 miles of an existing, 70-year-old pipeline that stretches from Surry and Sussex counties through Suffolk and Chesapeake.
TC Energy owns the larger Columbia Gas Transmission system, which runs from New York to the Midwest and Southeast, with Virginia the southernmost portion.
Part of the pipeline’s route runs near or through the Nansemond River and Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, both of which are key to the Nansemond Nation’s heritage.
“That’s our homeland. It will continue to be our homeland,” Assistant Chief Dave Hennaman previously told WHRO. “And that’s what we’re fighting to protect and to be concerned about.”
The Nation gained federal recognition in 2018, allowing it a seat at the table on projects like the pipeline. That wasn’t the case when the pipeline was first built in the 1950s.
The tribe said the existing pipeline damaged or destroyed at least 13 archaeological and cultural sites associated with them and worried the expansion could harm more.
Marion Werkheiser, the Nation’s attorney with Richmond-based Cultural Heritage Partners, said the tribe’s core request was for TC Energy to consult them and conduct a thorough ethnographic study of the area that would identify cultural resources.
The company recently reached out to negotiate with the tribe, she said, and has agreed to pay for the Nation to do such a study — on the tribe’s own timeline. That means the results of the analysis would not affect the outcome of regulators’ permitting decisions for the pipeline.
“This really respects the sovereignty of the tribe,” Werkeiser said. “It puts them in charge of the study of their own history and gives them a chance to be able to learn a lot more and gather a lot more data than would have been possible just through this permitting process.”
The company will also allow the tribe to monitor some areas during construction if needed.
As part of the agreement, the Nation this week withdrew its formal objections and participation as a consulting party in the Virginia Reliability Project permitting process.
Local environmental groups are still fighting the project. They argue it’s a misguided investment in fossil fuels and that a disproportionate number of communities along the pipeline’s route are considered disadvantaged.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission released its final environmental review of the project last month.
Regulators concluded that the project’s impacts would be “less than significant” long-term, excluding potential effects on climate change that the commission said it does not evaluate.