Pipeline pushback: The controversy between Colonna’s Shipyard and Virginia Natural Gas

NORFOLK, Va. - Controversy surrounding a natural gas pipeline continues in Hampton Roads.

Colonna's Shipyard in Norfolk said Virginia Natural Gas didn't take proper safety precautions when designing the Southside Connector Distribution Pipeline.

Virginia Natural Gas, on the other hand, said they have exceeded federal design requirements.

The plan is to build a 24-inch natural gas pipeline for approximately 9 miles. That 9 miles will span multiple areas in Chesapeake and Norfolk, including the property of Colonna's Shipyard.

Southside Connector Pipeline map

"We are not here to stop a pipeline. Pipelines are important, they serve a necessary purpose, [but] there is always a way to install a pipeline safely," said President and CEO of Colonna's Shipyard, Tom Godfrey.

Virginia Natural Gas said they held an initial design meeting with Shipyard officials in July of 2016. News 3 obtained a copy of the letter that VNG sent to Colonna's Shipyard. It reads in part:

In July 2016, Virginia Natural Gas held an initial design meeting with Mark Essert and other employees of Colonna’s. We sought to identify any objections that Colonna’s may have had to Virginia Natural Gas obtaining an easement on this portion of Colonna’s property, and to crossing the Elizabeth River at this location. Your team raised no objections to the easement, including its location, during this initial meeting."

In a press conference on Friday, Godfrey said that statement is untrue. He alleges Colonna's started having discussions with the gas company in the fall of 2017.  He said the company's concerns were addressed with Virginia Natural Gas but went unanswered.

Godfrey wants the public to understand the hazards that the pipeline presents. "It's 1250 PSI. It is a high pressure, high volume transmission line that is not normally located in a city or urban area and it presents a lot of hazards that generally are not appropriate for a residential neighborhood," Godfrey said.

He also fears that government agencies may pull their vessels from the property if parts of the pipeline are not improved.

In a meeting with News 3, President of Virginia Natural Gas Jim Kibler refuted those safety concerns. He said the pipeline will be buried 80 feet below ground, which is "20 times more than federal law requires." Secondly, he said they are exceeding federal requirements on steel strength and installing remote control shut off valves, which isn't required by federal code.

Finally, Kibler adds that the pipeline has already been inspected 45 times.

The Southside Connector Distribution project is a separate project being funded and built by Virginia Natural Gas to connect the company’s main northern and southern pipelines.