Pipeline debate erupts at county meeting

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BUCKHANNON — Upshur County commissioners last Thursday received an update on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project, but were also met with pushback from county residents who don’t want to see the pipeline project proceed.

The 600-mile-long project — which will run through West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina — is being overseen by Atlantic, which is a joint venture between Dominion, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and Southern Gas Company. The pipeline is routed to run from the northwest to southeast portions of Upshur County.

Ben Hardesty, an advisor to Atlantic, as well as Christine Mitchell, external affairs specialist with Dominion Resources, appeared before the commission to update them on the project.

Hardesty said, “What we want to do today, commissioners, is to give you an update on the project. A lot has happened since we were here last year and we have some information to share with you. Since we’ve been here, a lot of work’s been done on the project; there have been a lot of route adjustments in West Virginia and other states, and then on the positive side, we’ve had a lot of job expos — one in Bridgeport, one in Elkins in November — and we had a big turnout there.”

Hardesty said that thus far, the pipeline project has received positive support from the Upshur County Commission, as well as the Lewis County, Harrison County and Randolph County commissions.

“The project is 600 miles now and $5 billion, but as far as what this project means — it means energy security, jobs during construction, long-term economic opportunity and jobs in the region supporting the project,” Hardesty said.

Hardesty claimed the pipeline is expected to support a total of 70,240 temporary jobs through a consortium of contractors, about three or four of which will be located in West Virginia. Capital expenditures in the state of West Virginia are expected to top over $800 million in economic activity; meanwhile, the pipeline is expected to generate 3,100 jobs in the Mountain State — something Hardesty said was “very meaningful and very impactful” for the state.

Of the 100 miles of pipeline that will wind through West Virginia, 23 miles will be located in Upshur County, Hardesty said, adding that the estimated property tax payments after the pipeline is in service will top $2 million a year to the county.

“There will be a lot of activity and you’ll know it, but it will be monitored from a safety and environmental stewardship point of view throughout,” Hardesty said. “I think it’s stood up under a lot of scrutiny from the perspective of both the need for the pipeline, the company’s efforts to answer questions, requests on significant environmental studies and then what we call economic impact. Remember that over 95 percent of the gas that goes through the pipeline has been accounted for. In other words, it’s not ‘build it and they will come.’ Dominion and Duke and the Southern Gas Company primarily are taking the gas so it’s going toward electrical generation, industrial use and home heating — domestic and commercial.”

Hardesty then turned it over to Mitchell, who provided the county commissioners with an update on the timeline of the project. Mitchell said that although the pipeline is a joint venture between Dominion, Duke Energy, Southern Company Gas, Dominion will be the operator of the pipeline and will be monitoring it from its White Oaks gas control center in Bridgeport.

“Where we are today is in late December the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued the draft environmental impact statement — the DEIS — and they did that after two years of studies on our part, engagement along the entire 60 miles,” Mitchell said. “We had community meetings, scoping meetings, and this is the two-year culmination of all those studies. We submitted over 1,000 pages of survey reports, resource reports and those were all placed on our docket with the FERC.”

Mitchell also said over 35,000 public comments were received and that FERC had assured Dominion they reviewed all of those.

“We are now in the 90-day public comment period as well as the FERC public comment sessions,” Mitchell said, noting that March 2 will be the last day of the FERC public comment period.

She said the closest event to Upshur County will take place on March 1 from 5 to 9 p.m. at the Gandy Dancer Theatre. However, the 90-day FERC public comment will still be ongoing; any resident will be able to post a comment and upload photos or documents on the FERC website through April 6.

“We’re hoping that in June of 2017, they will issue the final environmental impact study,” Mitchell said, “and if we’re approved to begin construction on the pipeline, that would not occur until late in the year of 2017. We have to take into account the endangered species. There’s an Indiana long-eared bat that we can’t destroy the trees because that’s during its mating season, so we have to wait until late October and then we expect construction to occur in late 2017, all through 2018, and then hopefully the pipeline would be in service in 2019.”

Hardesty asked the commission to consider passing a resolution in support of the project.

“If you would go on record and support it, it would be very helpful, and then if you would send a letter to the FERC in support of the findings of the draft environmental statement — in other words, acknowledge it —we would really appreciate it,” Hardesty said.

Commission president Terry Cutright said the commission couldn’t approve a resolution or sending a letter until the items were on the commission’s agenda. He asked administrator Carrie Wallace to place the items on the agenda for the commission’s next meeting on Feb. 23.

Later in the meeting, Upshur County resident Brandi Miller addressed her concerns regarding the pipeline with the commission. She said she came to bring forth “compromises” that the county should be discussing with Dominion.

“I do not believe the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project would benefit our community in improving our situation or long-term growth,” Miller said. “We are situated in a perfect area to bring in more businesses considering where we are in relation to the highways. If our county officials would focus on planning and bringing in new sustainable businesses and offering more educational and training opportunities, we could see a lot more job growth in a diverse economy than the pipeline project could bring us.”

Miller pointed out that the pipeline project will run through the airport property, which could potentially limit development opportunities and put air emergency services at risk.

“Basically, I would just like to ensure that we are focused on long-term growth using our unique opportunities and strengths to improve our weaknesses and to counter our threats,” Miller said.

Citing information she said was provided by a Dominion study, Miller said that in West Virginia between 2014 and 2019, the pipeline is expected to support 300 direct jobs and 215 indirect jobs. However, after the pipeline is installed and operational — that is, 2019 and onward — the pipeline will only provide 24 direct jobs and 50 indirect jobs.

“From a business standpoint, these numbers are not high enough to consider this pipeline a viable opportunity for long-term growth for our county,” Miller said. “In addition, the pipeline will come within 2,200 feet of the high school, which is the 2-mile proposed evacuation zone. I find this most concerning and actually unbelievable that Dominion would be 1,100 students and 80 teachers at risk.”

Miller went on to say that she doesn’t trust Dominion because it had already paid landowners’ for the use of their land, even though the pipeline has yet to be approved. In addition, Miller claimed Dominion has trespassed on other landowners’ property and erected flags without their permission, leaving those individuals feeling “hopeless” about their ability to control the use of their own land.

Miller said she believed the pipeline should be rerouted away from the airport, the high school and the state police barracks — and that Upshur County needs a trained emergency response team to deal with potential hazards from the project and the installed pipeline. In addition, Miller said she believed the commission ought to ensure that local individuals are trained to perform the jobs supported by the pipeline so that Dominion doesn’t bring in out-of-state workers to take those jobs.

In addition to Miller, several other county residents — including Mike Choban, April Pierson-Keating and Tim Higgins — attended the commission meeting to express similar concerns to Miller’s about the Atlantic Coast pipeline proceeding.

 

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