On September 6, 2018, the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2 USA) honored Chicago-based public affairs firm Outreach Experts, Williams energy company and The Conservation Fund for excellence in public engagement. They were awarded both the IAP2 2018 Core Values Award and Project of the Year Award in recognition of their work on the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline Project. These awards recognized the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline project as a model for effective public engagement, community problem solving and public-private partnerships.
Constructing a major natural gas pipeline, through miles of pastoral countryside, with the support and guidance of people who live, play and work on the same land, is a monumental task. Earning public buy-in for natural gas pipeline projects has become increasingly difficult in recent years in large part because of highly publicized and controversial projects like the Dakota Pipeline at Standing Rock. Williams recognized the need for a new approach to engage communities and earn public trust to successfully gain permits and social licenses for their project.
Outreach Experts, a member of IAP2 and longtime partner of Williams, worked alongside them to develop and lead a comprehensive public engagement plan for the communities located along the 10-county pipeline corridor. Special attention was paid to farmers and other property owners with land adjacent to the project, many of whom had lived on the land for generations and would be directly or indirectly impacted by the pipeline. Working partnerships were developed with local conservation groups and nonprofit organizations. Most notably, The Conservation Fund, a leader in environmental preservation, partnered with them to design and implement a unique Environmental Stewardship Program in the 10 Pennsylvania counties.
Over the course of the four-year project, Williams made more than 350 changes and modifications in response to stakeholder feedback and completed 27.9 miles in pipeline re-routing. They ultimately develop a historic environmental stewardship program which included investing more than $2.5 million in 17 projects that focus on stream restoration, nutrient reduction and recreational trails in Pennsylvania communities.
They were able to develop a constructible route for the pipeline that would safeguard the hundreds of family farms, miles of precious rivers and streams, pristine forests and protected wildlife habitats by Deeply involving the public and interested stakeholders in the process of developing an acceptable path for the pipeline. Their approach also helped Williams to earn permissions from federal, state and local bodies along with social license from communities along the route.
In his remarks during the award ceremony, Senior Communications Specialist at Williams Chris Stockton recognized the work of Outreach Experts. “With their help, we have enhanced and improved the way we engage and work with the public. We greatly appreciate their involvement in this project and their role in its success.” These awards come at a meaningful time for Outreach Experts. Their mission is to be a major player in achieving former President Barack Obama’s vision for Chicago to be a hub of civic engagement and public participation.