City OKs pipeline water deal

ACP would pay city for $2 million in work needed to test pipeline

BUCKHANNON — Buckhannon’s Water Board won’t stop the flow of development.

Last Thursday, it gave its final stamp of approval on an agreement with Atlantic Coast Pipeline that states ACP will foot the bill for a nearly $2 million municipal water improvement project. ACP is willing to pay for the project because the improvements are critical to the corporation’s ability to perform hydrostatic testing on the 42-inch, 600-mile-long pipeline that extends from Harrison County into Virginia and North Carolina, according to a previous Record Delta article. Dominion Energy is the primary owner and operator of the ACP, which is also a corporation compromised of four partners: Dominion, Southern Company Gas, Piedmont Natural Gas and Duke Energy.

According to a copy of the agreement, which has not yet been officially signed by ACP, the pipeline will pay for $1,933,085 worth of improvements to the city’s water system. Those improvements include the construction of a new booster pump station capable of providing a flow rate of 1,000 gallons per minute; 6,900 feet of linear PVC pipe connecting the water distribution system in the Brushy Fork Road area to the new water distribution piping at the ACP Brushy Fork Connection Point; and another 6,900 feet of linear PVC pipe connecting the water distribution system near Sheetz on Route 20 to the Clow water storage tank.

Most of the work will be contracted out by the water board.

The board OK’ed a preliminary agreement in November 2017 and had been scheduled to vote on a revised, final version Thursday. Water Board member Dr. Eric Waggoner made a motion to approve the agreement, which was seconded by water board member and councilman David Thomas.

But before members voted on the matter, a couple community members expressed concerns about the city’s involvement in the pipeline construction project. When mayor David McCauley opened up the meeting to public comment, local real estate and environmental law lawyer Abigail Benjamin said she had several criticisms of the agreement, one of which was paramount.

“This is an easy fix, but I really feel strongly about it,” she said. Benjamin asked that the water board make the preconstruction meeting prior to the building of the water lines open to the public.

“I am begging you to make that meeting public,” she continued. “I understand that that is highly technical and you may or may not want to have public comments … but I think the public deserves to be at that meeting.”

McCauley said he would be happy to make that meeting public. He also wanted to clarify what Thursday’s meeting “was — and was not — about.”

“This is not about building a gas line,” McCauley said. “It’s about building a municipal water line … the City of Buckhannon is not building a gas line, and we don’t get to weigh in on whether a gas line is built. Those permits have been approved by the state and federal government.”

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection waived its right to grant ACP a Section 401 permit under the Clean Water Act, and no decision has been made regarding the issuance of a stormwater general construction permit. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, however, did grant ACP a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity in October 2017, largely clearing the way for pipeline construction.

McCauley said Dominion/ACP are now the city’s “customers” and as such, the city cannot deny them water under West Virginia Public Service Commission regulations. The mayor also said ACP’s investment in the city water system improvement project will benefit not only the corporation but also the citizens of Buckhannon.

“We are required to provide water to all of our customers, and one of the customers is going to be Dominion [Energy],” the mayor said. “They were going to come in and build a million dollar water tank and then dismantle it to test their lines, but we had a discussion with them, and we said, instead of building that million dollar, million gallon tank, why not invest that as a permanent improvement to our Buckhannon water system?”

McCauley said the city had planned to make similar enhancements to its water system in about a decade, but ACP funding the project will save residents from having to pay water rate increases, which may have been necessary to fund the project.

Benjamin also asked about early warning monitoring systems that indicate whether water has been contaminated, saying she hoped the warning system would be positioned “as far up on the tributary as possible.”

City engineer Jay Hollen said the city will be installing three early warning monitoring systems, one of which will be located near the Tennerton Bridge.

“There are pros and cons of locating it high upstream, because you miss all the downstream tributaries,” Hollen explained. “It’s going to be a balance. We’re currently putting one at the Tennerton Bridge, which gives us about an hour’s worth of warning time, and that catches all but two tributaries, and I would like to put one by the rural water intake, but that only gives us eight to 15 minutes’ worth of warning time.

“Where this third one goes and how far upstream, that’s still being determined,” Hollen added.

Benjamin wasn’t the only person to express concerns. Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance co-founder April Pierson-Keating said she was surprised that, as a member of the city’s Source Water Protection Committee, she hadn’t received information about the agreement with ACP sooner.

Pierson-Keating also asked about ACP’s plans to filter water containing rust, or iron oxide, generated by gas pipelines prior to those materials entering the city’s watershed.

“My thought is when you travel down 33 West and you see the pipe yard and you look at the pipes, the inside of the pipes is coated with a thin coat of rust from sitting out and that iron oxide will come off of the pipe and be in that water that is discharged, so another questions that I have is, what are their plans to filter the water before it goes back into our watershed?” Pierson-Keating asked.

McCauley said he wasn’t sure.

“I don’t know,” the mayor said. “That’s a community-wide question, but that’s not a question that the water board can answer. All we do is provide water to our customers, and that’s what this agreement is about.”

Mike Cozad, a community liaison for ACP, was at Thursday’s meeting, but said he wasn’t exactly sure how the corporation planned to filter the water.

“I don’t have the answer other than to say that it’s part of the plan to clean it up before it goes back in — it has to be cleaned up,” Cozad said.

Pierson-Keating said she was merely looking out for the community.

“The reason I’m asking all these questions is so that we know that we have thought of and asked all these questions before agreements are signed and construction begins so we know all the answers to these problems,” she said.

In response to another one of Pierson-Keating’s questions, Hollen said that if water becomes too turbid — or cloudy — due to sediment infiltration and the water treatment plant isn’t immediately able to remedy the turbidity, the City of Buckhannon has about three-days-worth of water in storage.

“We have over three days of water and so hopefully [in that case], the turbidity would drop down to a treatable level within those three days,” Hollen said.

McCauley said the city is rigorously regulated by the state’s public service commission.

“I believe this contract provides tremendous service to the customers in our Buckhannon water system, and we are basically moving investments that we would have had to have made anyway in five, 10, 15 years into the system that would have resulted in rate increases to our residents,” the mayor said. “We get to forgo that.”

Water board members voted to approve the agreement unanimously.

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