In our opinion: Why build natural gas facility in middle of neighborhood?

Dominion Energy is proposing to build a natural gas regulator station at 209 Center St. in Evanston, within a residential neighborhood. Why would a huge corporation like Dominion Energy choose to place a potential hazard smack dab in the middle of family residences, where children play, if there are more suitable vacant commercial lots, particularly along Highway 150?

Does the cost of the site have anything to do with their decision to intrude upon a residential neighborhood?

At least 45 residents have signed a petition opposing the proposed site at 209 Center St. One nearby resident, RaeAnn Pace, said she researched information on the facility and testified at the Planning & Zoning Commission hearing for Dominion Energy. Pace told the commission that, according to the natural gas regulations, a “high consequence area is defined as: a location that is specially defined in pipeline safety regulations as an area where pipeline releases could have greater consequences to health and safety of the public or the environment.”

According to those regulations, the location of 209 Center Street is definitely a high consequence area. Within a radius of 600 feet of the proposed site, there are a 45-unit apartment complex, 26 single family residents, the Wyoming National Guard station, a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints chapel, a daycare center (ECDC) that serves more than 500 children, and Evanston Middle School.

Dominion Energy acknowledges the safety and security concerns of such a facility in their application to the Evanston Planning and Zoning Commission.

“Due to safety and security concerns, Dominion Energy is proposing to build a concrete wall and [wrought] iron fence along the property lines on all sides of the rectangular parcel,” the application reads. “The [wrought] iron fence will be installed within the southeast corner of the station site for visibility within the sight triangle.”

According to Pace, Dominion Energy representatives previously stated that they usually put four-strand slanted barbed wire on top of the wall and fence but, due to the location in a residential area, they were going to eliminate the barbed wire securities.

Hazards for the residents that were brought up by Pace and others concerned the lack of light, air circulation and line of sight that would be caused by the eight-foot-high fence. Two of the houses affected are in the alleyway behind 209 Center.

Pace and the other residents noted that placing such a large natural gas facility in direct line of sight of Interstate-80 provides an opportunity for persons wishing to vandalize or attack a facility of this nature. Pace sited a 2022 film, “How to blow up a pipeline,” that clearly showed these types of facilities are a real target for terrorists and vandals.

Pace told the Herald that at the planning and zoning hearing she was rudely cut off and told by the chair to “wrap it up,” causing others who had come to testify to be reluctant to speak. Pace said the attorney for Dominion Energy was then given ample time to testify. Pace gave a written document of her findings to the commission and to the Herald.

One wonders — if it truly happened — why the commission didn’t want to hear from the residents who would be the most affected by this facility being in their backyard. Do the voices of the people really count today against big corporations, or even local government? Would the commission and council approve such a facility in their own neighborhoods?

Hopefully, the city council will give the residents near the proposed site ample time to testify at the special meeting to review the planning and zoning decision scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 12 at City Hall. And, more importantly, will they be open to other options for the building site of the natural gas regulator station?