Family Will Fight Pipeline Route: “People Can’t Be Expected to Just Lie Down”

Black bear in Catawba, VA/Photo by Tom VanNortwick, flickr
Black bear in Catawba, VA/Photo by Tom VanNortwick, flickr

By Duncan Adams, Roanoke Times

An acquaintance told Louise Garman to accept the inevitable — that there’s little she can do to stop a buried natural gas pipeline from traveling through her family’s farm in the Catawba Valley if the powers that be ultimately decide that’s the anointed route.

But Garman, 81, said she still has enough fight to object to an alternative route that could bring the 42-inch-diameter interstate pipeline through the property of family members, friends and neighbors.

“People can’t be expected to just lie down,” Garman said Monday.

Mountain Valley Pipeline confirmed earlier this month that it is considering alternatives to a previously disclosed route for the proposed pipeline but has declined to date to provide more specifics.

It appears that one new route could affect Garman and her family and others in the Gravel Hill Road area of the Catawba Valley — a section of Roanoke County near the boundaries of both Montgomery and Craig counties.

One of Louise and Frankie Garman’s two sons, as well as Garman’s brother and two of her nephews, recently received letters from Coates Field Service, a contractor working for Mountain Valley Pipeline, seeking permission to survey their property as part of an alternative study corridor for the pipeline.

Garman said the employees of Coates, an Oklahoma-based right-of-way acquisition company, have been polite but short on details.

“It came as a huge surprise to us,” she said. “I’ve spent a lot of time on the phone. I really would like to see them come and talk to the community as a whole.”

She said it is difficult to make a decision about granting permission for surveying without more information. Garman said she is aware that a controversial Virginia law allows natural gas companies to survey the family’s property without their permission if notification requirements are followed.

She said a Coates Field Service employee told her that one reason Mountain Valley is considering an alternate route is the staunch opposition in Montgomery County to the existing route’s proximity to the Preston Forest neighborhood.

Garman said she admires the people who have fought to route the pipeline away from Preston Forest. And she said that even though Gov. Terry McAuliffe and others have expressed support for the pipeline, she believes she and her neighbors have the right to object.

She said that one son fought for those rights in Desert Storm and that a grandson is serving in the U.S. Marine Reserves.

Residents of rural Virginia have a voice, too, Garman said.

“We’re country people, but this nation was founded by country people,” she said.

Garman said she is worried that the pipeline could damage a spring that is a vital water source for her family’s farm. She said much of the property includes features of a karst landscape, such as sinkholes and caves.

Mountain Valley Pipeline has said it can engineer the pipeline to safely operate in karst terrain.

As proposed, the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a joint venture of EQT Corp. and NextEra Energy, would transport natural gas at high pressure from West Virginia to the Transco natural gas transmission pipeline in Pittsylvania County.

The pipeline route that was reviewed during company-sponsored open houses in December and January was set to travel through the Virginia counties of Giles, Montgomery, Roanoke and Franklin before ending in Pittsylvania County.

Maurice Royster, manager of government relations for EQT Corp., has told officials in Craig County that a portion of the county might be considered for an alternative route.

Roughly 54 percent of Craig County is national forest. The U.S. Forest Service recently asked for public comment about whether to grant Mountain Valley Pipeline permission to survey for a possible pipeline corridor through the Jefferson National Forest. The comment period ended Friday.

Proponents of the pipeline have said it could help the United States become more energy independent, provide natural gas as a cleaner fuel than coal to generate electricity and provide a host of economic benefits.

Opponents have said the pipeline’s excavation and operation could damage the environment, be a safety threat, lower property values and provide ongoing support for both hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a controversial extraction process, and the use of a fossil fuel.

Mountain Valley Pipeline is in the early stages of seeking approval for the 300-mile, $3.5 billion project from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

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