Pipeline job fair draws 250

BUCKHANNON — The Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s open house and job fair Wednesday evening wasn’t supposed to start until 5 p.m.

However, crowds of people eager to learn about potential training, apprenticeship and job opportunities began lining up outside the doors to the Mountain View Event Center at 4:45 p.m., prompting ACP officials to open up 15 minutes early.

The open house and job fair, hosted by ACP and Dominion Energy, the primary operator of the 600-mile-long, 42-inch-wide natural gas pipeline, is one of two such events in the Mountain State this week.

The second took place Thursday in Marlinton in Pocahontas County, and ACP has four apiece planned for North Carolina and Virginia, according to its website.

Samantha Norris, communications specialist for ACP, said the purpose of the open house and job fair was three-fold: to connect potential employees to employers, answer local residents’ questions about the pipeline’s construction and recruit community businesses to be vendors for the pipeline project. Norris estimated 250 people had come through the doors over the course of the event, which was scheduled to wrap up at 7:30 p.m.

Norris said ACP officials were happy about the amount of interest in the natural gas pipeline project.

“We officially started at 5 p.m., but we had so many people that had gathered 15 minutes before 5 p.m. that our teams got in place and we started 15 minutes early with two sometimes three people flowing in the doors at one time,” Norris said.

So what was the layout of Wednesday’s open house?

“We have our union representatives to talk about training opportunities and apprenticeship opportunities, so people coming here to look for a job that have maybe never worked in the industry before, [we have people here talking about] how can they learn this new trade to become certified and qualified and have this great employment opportunity,” Norris explained. “We also have our inspectors. We have five different groups of inspectors here today that will be explaining the process of how we manage and monitor that pipeline going into the ground and then how we will continue to survey and inspect that pipeline throughout its entire existence.”

A group of subject matter experts was stationed at the center of the room to field a variety of questions from curious attendees, Norris said.

“In the center, we will have our subject matter experts so that’s our environmental department, and we have people here talking about safety for our community and safety for our employees. Safety is our number one commitment, that if you came to work that morning, you go the same way safe and sound to your family or to your loved ones,” Norris said. “Our subject matter experts are here to explain the details as much as you want to go in-depth. Many of these people have been working on this pipeline for four years now and really can explain the whole process so wanted to bring that resource to the communities in which we will be operating.”

A number of community liaisons — such as Mike Cozad who has appeared several times at Buckhannon City Council and Upshur County Commission meetings to present local updates — were also circulating the event center, answering questions that popped up from community members, Norris said.

Finally, the open house was held to link local businesses with ACP in hopes of creating partnerships, she added.

“The other purpose of this is to connect community businesses to become vendors, to be employed as a vendor for this construction,” Norris said. “We have already signed with a number of local businesses that will be vendors for the construction of this pipeline.”

Construction of the ACP — which begins in Harrison County and winds through West Virginia and Virginia before ending in Robeson County, North Carolina — is expected to start in late spring, possibly May or June, Aaron Ruby, media relations manager for Dominion Energy, told The Record Delta Thursday. Ruby said ACP is waiting for Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality to approve an erosion control and sediment permit before it can begin construction. Then, ACP must get the green light — in the form of a notice to proceed with construction — from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission before it can actually start installing the natural gas pipeline.

“We’ve already begun felling trees, clearing vegetation and full construction at compressor stations,” Ruby said.

On Wednesday evening, Norris said the ACP is being constructed in “spreads,” rather than “from point A to point B,” or in a linear manner.

Constructing the natural gas pipeline in spreads means workers can work on different sections, perhaps even in different states, simultaneously.

“Doing it in spreads is to make sure we’re working in a terrain that’s appropriate for that season or for what’s going on in that environment,” Norris said. “It’s not necessarily sequential.”

ACP is still on track to be completed by the end of 2019, despite the delay. 

“We have construction plans ready to go,” Norris said. “We’re waiting on the last final approvals from all the three states, so until we get all states’ approvals, we cannot begin construction. In North Carolina and West Virginia, all our permits are OK’ed, but we’re being held up by one in Virginia.”

Building the pipeline will produce about 3,000 jobs across West Virginia — and not only occupations involving physical labor.

“That’s a variety of jobs, and it’s not just blue collar, industrial jobs,” Norris said. “There’s also some long-term employment opportunities that will come out of this pipeline. Those compressor stations will have people that are manning them, our inspectors … long after that pipeline is in the ground, they will continue to inspect and monitor it.”

Opponents of pipeline construction have expressed concerns about property owner rights, workers’ and residents’ safety and potential contamination of local water sources as well as skepticism that economic benefits of the pipeline will last.

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