Commission holds special meeting on pipeline letter

A standing-room only crowd attended the Pocahontas County Commission meeting on February 6 to provide comments on a proposed Commission letter in support of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Twelve local residents spoke against the letter of support. Three local residents, including one Dominion employee, spoke in favor of the letter of support. The Commission scheduled a second meeting to discuss and consider the letter on February 11.
A standing-room only crowd attended the Pocahontas County Commission meeting on February 6 to provide comments on a proposed Commission letter in support of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Eleven local residents spoke against the letter of support. Three local residents, including one Dominion employee, spoke in favor of the letter of support. The Commission scheduled a second meeting to discuss and consider the letter on February 11.

A proposed Dominion Resources 42-inch natural gas pipeline to be built through northern Pocahontas County has generated concern among local residents about damage to the Monongahela National Forest, degradation of waterways and the use of eminent domain. Several local residents aired those concerns during a special Pocahontas County Commission meeting on Friday, February 6.

The published agenda stated the purpose of the meeting was to discuss and act on a “letter of support for the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline Project.” Several members of the public questioned the propriety of the agenda, which presupposed Commission support for the pipeline, and did not allow the possibility of a letter in opposition to the project.

Fifteen people took the opportunity to address the Commission during the meeting. Eleven people spoke in opposition to a letter of support. Three people, including one Dominion employee, spoke in favor of the letter of support, and one person requested more information before Commission action.

Ultimately, Commissioners William Beard, Jamie Walker and David McLaughlin stated support for the pipeline project, but scheduled a second meeting due to concerns about the agenda that had been published for the special meeting.

Richard Ludwig, of Hillsboro, spoke in opposition to the pipeline. Ludwig said part of his family farm in Colorado had been taken by oil companies through eminent domain.

“From a farmer’s perspective, it seems very enticing at first to go along with this,” he said. “But what comes along later are repercussions that are unforeseen. We’ve had oil spills on our land and they don’t even tell us about it.”

“The farmer needs to be empowered to say ‘no,’ Ludwig added. “They even have it to the point now in Colorado where we have to sign waivers if we want to walk on our own property. They don’t reimburse us enough for the crop damage they do when they frack or put an easement through.”

Allen Johnson, of Frost, spoke in opposition to the pipeline.

“I want to push for good jobs in the county and not the boom-bust,” he said. If they build this in the northern part of the county, somebody’s not going to build a motel for six months or for a year. You build a motel for decades to come. So, businesses are leery about boom-bust cycles.”

Johnson added that quality of life indexes for West Virginia are among the lowest in the nation, despite the state’s long-running status as an energy exporting state and the state government’s accommodation for coal, oil and gas companies.

Tom Epling, of Stony Bottom, spoke in opposition to the pipeline.

“The natural resources that we have here support and provide jobs for this county,” he said. “The biggest employer in the county is Snowshoe ski resort. There’s the Monongahela National Forest, that provides those kind of resources for people. The pipeline, if it goes in, is going to do permanent and irreparable damage to those resources and is going to cause loss of revenue for the people of this county in the long run.”

Bob Runyon, of Stony Bottom, spoke in opposition to the pipeline.

“There’s not going to be anything for the people of Pocahontas County from the pipeline except for the mess,” he said. “There’s no jobs, it’s not a job issue. There will be nothing lasting, except the scar.”

Runyon responded to a statement by Commissioner William Beard that the pipeline would bring jobs to Pocahontas County.

“Mr. Beard, if your concern for this county is jobs, I submit that if you want to keep jobs in Pocahontas County and promote good jobs, you will maintain and keep the resources that attract people here in the first place, rather than allow those resources to be compromised by clear-cutting pieces of the forest, causing steep slopes to have the trees removed from them and dumping sediments into rivers,” he said. “All of those things detract from the resources that currently provide jobs to people in this county now.”

Shay Huffman, of Hillsboro, spoke in opposition to the pipeline.

“What’s happening in other counties is that people’s homeowner’s insurance is being cancelled as they find that more and more breaches are occurring in these pipelines,” she said. “Insurance companies are saying, ‘we’re not going to insure you anymore because of this.’ Everything I’ve read says that there is no benefit for our county. It’s only a detriment. We are a tourism county and we are not going to increase tourism by putting in this pipeline.”

Robin Mutscheller, a Dominion employee, of Marlinton, spoke in favor of the pipeline.

“I believe completion of the Atlantic Coast pipeline is important, not only to our county, but the State of West Virginia and our country as a whole,” she said. “I strongly urge you to support it. Thank you and let’s keep the lights on.”

Charlie Sheets, of Green Bank, spoke in favor of the pipeline.

“Tax dollars that the county will receive is like manna from heaven,” he said. “In the year 2020, they’re estimating one million dollars in tax revenue for this county. This could be used for many community projects, far beyond any of our dreams.”

John Leyzorek, of Marlinton, spoke in opposition to the pipeline.

“One of the most fundamental liberties that this country was founded to protect is the right to own property,” he said. “Of all my other objections to the pipeline, maybe the most serious one is that, if this project is approved, it will have the power of eminent domain.”

“A whole set of county commissioners lost their jobs only a few years ago through supporting a project that was going to take land by eminent domain,” Leyzorek added. “The sentiment of the county has been and continues to be in favor of the right to own private property, which this project threatens.”

Beth Little, of Hillsboro, spoke in opposition to the pipeline.

“I was kind of hoping that, as representatives of the whole county, that you guys would decide to just not take a position, and therefore you wouldn’t be taking one side against the other,” she said. “That’s what they did over in Highland County.”

Mickey Deike, of Cass, spoke in opposition to the pipeline.

“I’m opposed to the pipeline because, if we’re thinking about future generations, we want to think about what this county’s going to be,” she said. “I’ve been here 50 years and I’ve seen very little change, which is really a blessing. I’m very nervous about what could happen, so I stand opposed to the pipeline.”

Alice Beecher, of Hilsboro, spoke in opposition to the pipeline.

“I hope that the commissioners are considering the health and safety risks of having a pipeline this large running through the county,” she said. “I just read recently about a pipeline explosion in Brooke County. If you research pipeline explosions in the United States in the past 10 years, there have been many, many incidents – in some of which lives have been lost. Ten people were killed from a pipeline explosion in California. These are dangerous and they have risks.”

Water Resources Task Force Coordinator Grazia Appolinares requested that questions she had submitted to Dominion the previous week regarding local water sources be answered before the Commission takes a position.

“I would just suggest that these questions regarding our streams, our wells, our karst topography and all those effects on our resources should be answered first before making any decision,” she said.

Tom Simkins, of Marlinton, spoke in favor of the pipeline.

“One of the things that hasn’t been mentioned, a positive thing on the pipeline, is wildlife,” he said. “There are wildlife openings that help the wildlife. Stream crossings – I was thinking about that. I fish up there. After the ’85 flood and the ’96, there was still trout up there. These stream crossings are really in only one place. They aren’t like the ’85 flood. I don’t see that as a big problem.”

Simkins added that pipeline easements in Pennsylvania are enhancing recreation by providing trails for biking, hiking and skiing.

William McNeel, of Marlinton, spoke via speakerphone in opposition to the pipeline.

“I just wanted to express my total opposition to the pipeline project,” he said. “I see absolutely no advantage whatsoever to the county, even during the construction process. The construction process on National Forest land is a bad idea and will detract from our tourism-based economy.”

“My main concern is a 42-inch pipeline crossing the watersheds of several of our rivers,” McNeel added. “There’s nothing more important in West Virginia than the quality of our water.”

Sharon Kearns, of Hillsboro, spoke against the pipeline.

“I don’t see any benefits for the county,” she said. “The men that will come in will probably have their own trailers, so I really don’t see any benefit to hotels. They usually drag their own trailers behind them.”

Dominion State and Government Local Affairs Director Robert Orndorff answered questions during the meeting.

Leyzorek asked Orndorff how many and what type of jobs would become available to Pocahontas County residents.

“The operation of this pipeline will be under the Atlantic Coast Pipeline” he said. “They will have an employment base that will start a the very beginning of the pipeline and will go to the very end of the pipeline. We are right now in the process of working with this new company to determine where those jobs will be and what types of jobs there will be, the types of jobs, specifically – roustabout jobs, right-of-way jobs, individuals that operate the pipeline. In Lewis County there will be compressor station operators.”

“I cannot give you the exact amount because we don’t know that yet,” Orndorff added. “We are right now in the process of building this company and making that determination. There have been some numbers quoted for West Virginia. I’m not at liberty to quote those numbers. They’re not significant, they’re not in the thousands, but they’re well-paying jobs.”

After hearing public comments, the three commissioners gave their views on the pipeline project.

Commissioner David McLaughlin stated strong support for the pipeline, but not because of jobs.

“Jobs, to me, is not an issue for the pipeline in Pocahontas County,” he said. “I’m looking at future years, beyond 2015, 2020 and 2025, what the pipeline can do for Pocahontas County. Revenue for the county. A significant amount of tax revenue will come to the county.”

Orndorff provided a Dominion spreadsheet that showed estimated pipeline property tax payments of more than $1 million per year by the year 2021.

McLaughlin said pipelines have a good safety record.

“There’s a very low percentage of failure on the pipeline when it’s working,” he said. “That’s on record. They have a low percentage of failure.”

McLaughlin said tourism would not suffer if the pipeline is built.

“It’s going to be five or six feet underground,” he said. “How’s it going to hurt tourism?”

McLaughlin read a prepared statement.

“I feel I don’t have to defend my position on the pipeline issue,” he read. “I believe the citizens of Pocahontas County made that decision for me in the May primary election. They knew my position on the Birthplace of Rivers National Monument, which I am opposed to, as well as the pipeline. I prevailed in that election by a popular vote. That’s a popular vote. That’s the whole county, not these few people here.”

Commissioner William Beard cited the need for economic growth.

“This county needs some economy and growth to it,” he said. “We’re against windmills, we’re against cell towers, we’re against pipelines, we’re against just anything that comes about anymore. I hope in meetings like this we can discuss the issues and we’ll all learn more, but we do need to grow. We need some life in this county.”

“At this point, I’d like to move forward with what [the pipeline] can bring to the county,” Beard added.

Commissioner Jamie Walker said business people supported the pipeline project.

“In the last week, I spoke with five different businesses from Marlinton to Durbin,” he said. “Everybody that I had talked to is in favor of it. They think that we have nothing to lose and we have a possibility of something to gain. Whether it’s motel rooms, whether it’s restaurants, whether it’s supplies or whether it’s people coming off the street to go to work, they say we need anything we can get at this point. That’s all I’ve heard from the business end of it.”

“I’ve been here for 39 years, since the day I was born,” Walker added. “I’ve watched the water flow. I’ve drank probably out of every creek in this county at some point in time. Ain’t none of it killed me yet. I’ve watched the trees grow. But ain’t none of that put one single dollar in my pocket.”

Due to concerns about the published agenda for the special meeting, the Commission scheduled a second special meeting on Wednesday, February 11 at 5 p.m. to discuss letters in support of or opposition to the pipeline project. See next week’s edition of The Pocahontas Times for a report on that meeting.

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