BUCKHANNON – Construction on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project is expected to begin on April 1, 2018, and that is not an April Fool’s joke.
Mike Cozad, a third-party contractor for ACP, came to the Upshur County Commission’s weekly meeting Thursday to provide commissioners with a timeline and update on the building of the 42-inch, 600-mile natural gas pipeline that will extend from Harrison County, West Virginia to Robeson County, North Carolina.
On Oct. 13, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, issued a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity for ACP, which authorized the construction and subsequent operation of the pipeline, according to information provided at Thursday’s meeting.
People from out of state who work for ACP or one of its contractors are already trickling into Upshur County, Cozad said.
“You’ve probably seen some people coming in already with Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas license plates,” he said. “Those are inspectors and safety personnel. They’re folks that are here in advance of the large crew that will be coming in in the springtime. We’ve got maybe 40 people on board in this area now.”
Cozad himself is actually employed by Environmental Resource Management, a company based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He was hired by ACP to work with local officials to keep lines of communication open between ACP/Dominion and area residents, government and organizations in Upshur and Lewis counties.
“What ACP has decided to do is put some folks out in the community working day-to-day with whomever to try to make this transition, and what I want to do today is to give you guys an idea of who we are, what we’re about and what our roles are,” Cozad said. “So any glitches that come up or problems that come up, I want you to know I’m here.”
Cozad described himself and his backup liaison, Denise Campbell, as “the go-to people.”
Cozad said the majority of employees slated to work on the project will be arriving in Upshur County in March 2018.
“The big influx of people will be in March,” he said. “In the latter part of March, you’ll see a whole lot of people coming in here and getting set up with the anticipated start date (of construction) 1 April 2018. Prior to that, we will be dropping trees, but that’s a much smaller impact – they’re just going out, felling the trees and moving on.”
Construction on the pipeline will occur in two “spreads” – one in 2018 and the second in 2019, Cozad added.
“That’s subject to change, but the way it’s laid out now, the area in and around Buckhannon [will happen in] 2019, and then the southeast part of your county will be in 2018, so that will be the spread that is worked on next year,” he said.
Commissioner Sam Nolte wanted to know how many people would be involved in building the pipeline.
“How many people total are you expecting on this?” Nolte asked.
Cozad replied, “Each construction spread will be 400 to 600 people, depending on the contractor. They’ll also be coming in and hiring local laborers … a lot of these jobs are union jobs – for the more skilled jobs, [the employees] will come out of union halls and things like that, so these people will be drawn from wherever, but they’ll (contractors) also be coming in and hiring a lot of local laborers to do other jobs that are less skilled.
“You don’t need to be a pipeline specialist to do a number of jobs that will be required,” Cozad said.
According to ACP literature provided in Thursday’s commission packet, more specific information will be presented at two construction open houses – one in January 2018 and a second in the fall of 2018.
Cozad said ACP has been working with public schools, St. Joseph’s Hospital, West Virginia Wesleyan College, the city of Buckhannon and other local stakeholders to ensure the transition into pipeline construction is smooth.
But not everyone at Thursday’s meeting was convinced the natural gas pipeline would benefit county residents.
April Pierson-Keating, a member of Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance, raised several concerns about the project.
“I’m just here to draw your attention to a few things that might counter the rosy picture that Dominion (ACP) is painting of this project,” Pierson-Keating said. “There are numerous permits that this pipeline still needs. The certification from FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) is being challenged by several community groups and then lawyer groups that are helping them take the case.”
In addition, the state of North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality has not yet issued Section 401 Water Quality Certification to ACP, Pierson-Keating said. Section 401 certification is required for each permit or license issued by a federal agency to ensure that economic development projects will not violate a state’s water quality standards, according to the W.Va. Department of Environmental Protection’s website.
“The state of North Carolina has absolutely turned down the 401 certification for the reason that they (ACP/Dominion) did not give all the information [for the] permit that they were required to give,” she said.
FERC’s issuance of the Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity for the project is also being challenged by several different groups, Pierson-Keating said.
Pierson-Keating and other opponents to ACP construction believe the project will cause long-term damage to natural resources and West Virginia’s economy, she said.
“We believe that the tax money that is going to be coming in and the few jobs that are going to be going to West Virginians are offset by lower property values, damage to the water and long-term damage to our economy in terms of tourism and other things.
“I’m not asking you to do anything today,” Pierson-Keating said to the commission. “I’m just trying to provide a counter and a balance to the happy-dappy, rosy picture and also to let you know that there are a lot of permits outstanding, there are hearings and trials coming up, so the timeline they expect may be pushed back.”
She said ACP/Dominion contractors may not necessarily hire Upshur County workers, but rather, employees from other counties in West Virginia.
“The work in a locality doesn’t necessarily benefit that locality,” she said. “There is no evidence that this is going to benefit the local people and economies other than a few temporary jobs, which may or may not go to local people.”
Another effect of pipeline construction will be additional fracking activity, which means the water that’s used to frack – or inject liquid at high pressure into rocks to force natural gas out through existing cracks – will be contaminated with radium-226, which “has a half-life of 1,600 years, is water-soluble, and is responsible for a range of health problems including anemia, cataracts, fractured teeth, cancer, especially bone cancer but also liver and breast, and death,” Pierson-Keating said.
“We know that there are other ways to develop our economy,” she said. “These are safer ways that provide jobs for people, that provide tax revenue and we don’t have to take every first offer that comes down the pike.”
Following the meeting, commissioner Troy “Buddy” Brady said only time will tell how beneficial the pipeline will be to Upshur County.
“It will have a little benefit, yes,” Brady said. “How much, you never know until it goes through. I think April made some good points, and with that being said, I think she’s trying to make sure that they live within the guidelines of what they’re supposed to do and following all the regulations. I think she brings a lot to the table.”
Nolte said construction will bump up business for hotels, restaurants, gas stations and retail stores for at least a two-year period.
“I’m glad ACP was here to answer questions,” he said. “There are always concerns.”
Cozad agreed the majority of the benefits will be short term.
“The bigger impact is going to be short term, of course, while construction is going on,” Cozad said. “There will still be some long-term jobs, but she’s (Pierson-Keating) correct that the number’s probably not that much. They are intending to hire as many local people as possible. They may come from other counties, but they are, in my mind, local people.”
While ACP is the name of the actual pipeline, it is also the legal entity formed by the four companies involved in the project: Dominion Energy, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and Southern Company Gas. Dominion is the chief owner and operator of the pipeline, according to previous The Record Delta reports.