County tweaks pipeline support letter

BUCKHANNON — Upshur County Commissioners voted to modify a letter they will send in support of Atlantic Coast Pipeline construction in an effort to address local concerns about water safety.

At the commission’s weekly meeting Thursday, local resident Tim Higgins addressed  commissioners about a letter they voted to send at their meeting Dec. 14.

At that meeting, Mike Cozad — community liaison for the corporation Atlantic Coast Pipeline and pipeline operator Dominion Energy — had requested that the commission sign and send a letter in support of ACP/Dominion’s application for an oil and gas stormwater construction permit through the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection. Cozad provided a template letter to the commission, which ultimately approved signing and sending it.

However, commissioners had delayed approving the actual content of the letter until this week’s Thursday morning meeting.

Higgins said he thought commissioners needed to have a better understanding of what the permit entailed before they signed off on it.

“What brings me here today is a few questions on your approval of that particular letter, and first, I want to ask you, have any of you read the stormwater permit?”

Commission president Terry Cutright replied, “I’ve read the technical information they’ve put out, but I looked over it, and it’s like 700 and some pages.

“Have you read it, Tim?” Cutright asked.

Higgins said he had started the process but was most interested in seeing if the commission had examined it.

Commissioner Sam Nolte said he’d skimmed it, similarly noting the lengthiness of the document.

Higgins turned to commissioner Troy “Buddy” Brady and asked if Brady had read the permit application.

Brady answered, “I did not. I saw it was 700-and-some pages. I don’t have time to read it; it’s like reading a novel, do you know what I mean? You’ve got to be kidding me.”

Higgins persisted, “Do any of you remember who applied for that particular permit?” and the commissioners indicated they didn’t.

“Did any of you read any of the comments between the applicant and the permit reviewer?” he asked and again, the commissioners said they hadn’t.

“Did you read any of the appendages at all?” Higgins asked.

Cutright interjected, “Tim, do you have something you want to tell us about it?”

Nolte said he had read literature produced by individuals both for and against the construction of the 42-inch, 600-mile-long pipeline that will transport natural gas from Harrison County, West Virginia to Virginia and Robeson County, North Carolina.

“I’m just struggling to pull it up to kind of follow along with you here,” Nolte said.

Higgins said he had come to ask the commission to either withhold their letter of support or table it until they’ve done further research on the permit.

“I’m just asking if you would consider tabling your item number one on the agenda for discussion until after you’ve had a chance to review some of the comments [between the permit applicant and the permit reviewer,” Higgins said.

Brady said that while he appreciated Higgins’ viewpoint, the commission will never be able to satisfy everyone in the county.

“I know what you’re trying to do here. I know you’re just trying to make everything better,” Brady said, “but with that being said, is there a chance something could happen with that pipeline? There is. Is there a chance that a tractor trailer carrying fuel could run off a bridge from the Tallmansville Road? There is. Is there a chance that the timber above your house could have killed the trout in your stream? There is … with that being said, as a commissioner, we make decisions here every day, and they’re not always popular decisions, and we can’t satisfy everybody.”

Higgins said he was simply asking that the commission table their decision to send the letter until they have an opportunity to review the permit application.

Brady replied, “I’m trying to do the best I can, and when you come in here and stand up at the podium and ask if I’ve read a 700-page document, you know the answer before you ask the question … I don’t really have the time to read that, and I’m not a lawyer either … DEP has regulations and guidelines and they do the best they can. You can’t stop progress.”

Abigail Benjamin, a local real estate and environmental attorney, also addressed the commission and urged them to insert three sentences in the proposed letter to ensure Upshur County is sending an unequivocal message that it values the cleanliness of its waters.

Benjamin asked that the commission insert the following three sentences: “We remain committed to the environmental law protection of our beautiful West Virginia hills and streams. We believe Dominion Energy representatives will fulfill their promises to protect our environment. We support the local efforts of the Buckhannon River Watershed Association to monitor our communities’ streams.”

Addressing the commission, Benjamin said, “There’s nothing more Republican than standing up for local control, and what I would like to advocate for is our own very awesome Buckhannon River Watershed Association, and I would like … that while we’re taking this massive economic growth opportunity, we also have responsibility.”

Benjamin made what she called a “modest proposal” that the commission commit to granting the BRWA $500 to conduct stream monitoring prior to and following pipeline construction, and an additional $1,000 to monitor streams during ACP construction.

“That will allow us to have information, that will allow us on a local level to make sure we’re protecting our Buckhannon River, where we as a city and county get our water and where we all love to fish,” Benjamin said.

Cutright said the commission wouldn’t be able to decide whether it’s able to grant that money to the BRWA until it crafts its budget in March 2018.

Higgins said stream monitoring needs to begin prior to pipeline construction so the BRWA has a baseline to which it can compare later findings.

Nolte made a motion to include the language Benjamin suggested, which was seconded by Brady prior to passing unanimously.

“We can’t stop every possible accident from happening, but I enjoy fishing, and I want to be there and make sure [Dominion Energy] does it right,” Brady said. “I can assure you that all three commissioners here want to assure they do it right. I can guarantee that we are here for the best of the people in Upshur County.

The DEP is accepting public comments on the possible issuance of the stormwater construction permit through Dec. 31, 2017. On Monday evening, a public hearing took place at Buckhannon-Upshur High School, which allowed speakers to comment on whether they believe the permit should be issued — as well as make specific suggestions to alter it. Energy industry officials and ACP supporters see the issuance of the stormwater permit as the last hurdle ACP/Dominion Energy must clear prior to construction on the pipeline.

To view the permit application, visit and search for permit no. WVR310820.

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