By Geoff Hamill, Pocahontas Times
During a special meeting on February 11, the Pocahontas County Commission listened to proponents and opponents of Dominion Resources’ proposed Atlantic Coast pipeline. After hearing public comments, the Commission unanimously approved a letter to the U.S. Forest Service in support of Dominion’s request to perform surveys on the Monongahela National Forest; and a second letter in general support of the project to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
Commissioner William Beard stated that comments would be limited to two minutes, a variation in the standard Commission policy to allow five minutes.
Allen Johnson, of Frost, stated his opposition to the pipeline proposal.
“If I look ahead 66 years – I’m 66 – I’m concerned about the climate we’ll have; I’m concerned about the environment we’ll have,” he said. “The pipeline will continue to be part of business as usual – burning fossil fuels. Five billion dollars, they don’t want to strain their assets. If you put that kind of money into it, you’ve got to keep it pumping.”
Thomas Epling, of Stony Bottom, spoke in opposition to the project. Epling responded to a statement by Commissioner Jamie Walker during a previous meeting that being able to drink water from streams and watch trees grow in Pocahontas County had not resulted in personal pecuniary gain.
“Because of the unique beauty this county has to offer, I moved to Pocahontas County and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on property here,” he said. “I just filled up my pickup today and I shop every week at Trent’s General Store.”
“Any suggestion that trees in Pocahontas County do not put money in people’s pockets is pretty short-sighted, I’m afraid,” Epling added. “I think our resources do return money to this county. People who enjoy them bring it in. I think you all need to look at that carefully before you go destroying those resources.”
Dominion employee Gary Sharp, of Marlinton, spoke about his company’s emphasis on safety.
“I’ve worked on wind turbines and I’ve worked on gas lines to our new construction power plants,” he said. “There’s not another company that I know of that expects the quality and demands the quality that Dominion does on a project.”
Doug Cooper, of Valley Head, stated support for the project.
“The EPA has put stronger restrictions on the power plants on the East Coast that are burning coal,” he said. “They’re burning coal and they cannot meet the emissions standards that the EPA put on them. So they need this natural gas to keep them running. So that’s my main reason for supporting the pipeline.”
Dominion employee Robin Mutscheller, of Marlinton, spoke in support of the project. Mutscheller cited an energy industry publication that ranked Dominion highly in safety and environmental stewardship.
“This is exactly the kind of company that we want to invest in our community,” she said.
Tom Simkins, of Marlinton, briefly asked the Commission to send letters in support of the project.
Alan Balogh, of Hillsboro, spoke in opposition to the proposed pipeline.
“There’s going to be pollution from it,” he said. “It’s going to deteriorate the water. Lewisburg just lost their water because a truck rolled over. Now, what’s going to happen when something happens during construction to the river? It’s the birthplace of rivers, eight rivers. This river goes into the New and all the way to the Mississippi. This is not a county to industrialize.”
Margaret Worth, of Marlinton, stated concern about increased hydrofracturing in other parts of the state due to pipeline construction.
“I just have one concern about the letters of support,” she said. “I’ve talked to many people who say they have a lot of questions about hydrofracking and fracked gas and what it can do to the water. They say we’re not going to experience any of that devastation by allowing the pipeline. I’m just a person who believes if it’s bad for anybody, it’s bad for all of us.”
Melissa Dobbins, owner of Eight Rivers Yoga, spoke to oppose the proposed pipeline.
“There are very few places around the country that are pure and this is it” she said. “If we contaminate in any way, shape or form up here, there is no hope for our aquifer. I have such respect for our underground water system. I have seen more things underground that you cannot even comprehend up here. Our beautiful water aquifers are real.”
Kenneth Kelley, of Frost, spoke in support of the project.
“I’ve been here for 79 years and I know I don’t have that much longer to live,” he said. “But if the county’s going to survive, it’s going to have to provide places to work and things to do. Everybody can’t depend on tourism.”
“I’ve got 500 acres up there and if they want to come through it tomorrow, there she lay,” Kelley added.
Fred Burns, Jr., of Marlinton, spoke in support of the proposed pipeline.
“There’s more pipelines in the United States than there is interstate highways,” he said. “I’ve been supporting this because I don’t want to see 200 trucks a day coming through Marlinton hauling gas. That’s going to be the alternative – either by rail or by truck.”
“My concern is that if we lose our tax base in Pocahontas County, we’re going to lose our hospitals, our libraries, our schools,” Burns added.
Dominion executive Robert Orndorff, of Charleston, spoke about his company’s safety record.
“We’ve operated pipelines in West Virginia and throughout New England for over 125 years,” he said. “I have two of our experts here tonight to answer any technical questions you may have. My sense is, there’s no other company but Dominion that should be building a pipeline like this. We have the expertise to do it.”
Charles Sheets, of Green Bank, spoke in support of the project.
“By the year 2021, they [Dominion] are projecting a tax payment of $1,049,000 to Pocahontas County,” he said. “The tax dollars our county will receive could be used for many community projects. This extra money could be used for the schools and many other educational projects.”
Jacob Meck, of Green Bank, spoke in support of the pipeline. Meck said his construction company recently worked at Dominion’s Bath County Pumped Storage Facility, during which Dominion was highly environmentally conscious.
“When we were working over there, we frequently saw Bald Eagles flying around,” he said. “Those Bald Eagles had a nest right above the power house. Apparently, if Dominion’s environment is good enough for the Bald Eagle, it’s good enough for me.”
John Leyzorek, of Marlinton, stated opposition to the project.
“I have not heard or seen any credible suggestion that this construction project will promote any long-term or beneficial economic development to the county,” he said.
“I think it is vitally important for you guys, my neighbors, to stand up for the property rights of everybody in the county and to recommend against this project because of the risk of eminent domain,” Leyzorek added.
Norman Alderman, of Beaver Creek, asked Dominion engineers about an alternate pipeline route that passes through central Pocahontas County.
“I want you to explain to the folks here how you would bring a pipeline through Marlinton without destroying Burns Motor Freight, Foodland, the Sunoco and the other places there,” he asked.
Dominion engineer Brittany Moody said pipeline routes are planned to avoid built-up areas.
“When we lay out the routes, we avoid houses and structures,” she said. “We know that we’ve looked at it on Google Earth. We’ve studied it. We have avoided all structures. We will find more as we do surveys and get on the land. But we have no intentions of going through anybody’s houses or anybody’s structures or destroying anything around the area.”
Sherry Ratcliff, treasurer with the Pocahontas County Board of Education, spoke in favor of the project.
“The taxes that can come from this industry, a pipeline coming through our county – that is a tax that will support our schools,” she said. “Pocahontas County chose not to approve an excess levy that was on our ballot.”
Doug Bernier, of Marlinton, spoke against the project.
“Considering what we have in this county, overall, I think it would be a detriment to the county and wouldn’t be a benefit,” he said.
John Snyder, of Marlinton, spoke in support of the project.
“One of the reasons I support it is environmental reasons,” he said. “Duke Energy in North Carolina is having a heck of a time with their power plants that are burning coal, with coal ash storage and other issues. It appears that this natural gas will go and convert those plants to natural gas, which is half the amount of CO2 as the coal burners.”
Angela Taylor, of Frost, spoke in support of the pipeline proposal. Taylor said her husband and brother-in-law are pipeline workers, and that claims of destruction in built-up areas are unfounded.
Freda Jackson stated her support for the pipeline proposal.
Alice Arbuckle, of Hillsboro, said she opposed construction through the National Forest.
“I’m concerned that a private entity, such as Dominion, will set a precedent for other companies wanting to run a pipeline through the National Forest,” she said. “It’s a precedent I’m worried about. The National Forest was set aside to be a forest forever. I really wish they would find another route that avoids the National Forest.”
Ultimately, 10 county residents spoke in favor of the pipeline proposal and eight spoke against it, after which commissioners commented on the issue.
“I feel strongly that we need to support the Forest Service to look at this and do their survey,” said Beard. “They have well qualified, intelligent people. I’m going to listen to them for their surveys and tell us if the area, if they are satisfied with running a pipeline and feel like it can be done without any environmental impact, I agree with them. If they feel like it can’t be, then I’ll go with them that way. I think our responsibility right now is to support the study and the survey.”
Walker said jobs is a major factor causing him to support the pipeline proposal.
“The first question I got asked when I ran for county commissioner is, ‘what are you going to do to bring jobs to this county?’” he said. “I’ve been here for four years and it’s safe to say, I don’t know if we’ve brought any jobs here because we’ve turned everything away. It’s time to open the door and let something have a chance. We have nothing to lose, but maybe a little bit to gain.”
Commissioner David McLaughlin made a brief comment.
“It’s a contentious issue – it seems like it always is in Pocahontas County,” he said. “I’ve talked to enough people and studied the pipeline process enough to make a decision what I want to do concerning the vote. I’m not going to say much more about that because I want to listen to the other two commissioners.”
The FERC is currently gathering information in order to make a decision whether to approve Dominion’s proposed Atlantic Coast pipeline. The Commission voted 3-0 to send a letter in support of the project to FERC. The Commission also voted unanimously to approve a letter to the Forest Service in support of Dominion’s request to perform surveys of the proposed pipeline route in the National Forest.