For the third meeting in a row, it was standing room only Tuesday evening in the Pocahontas County Commission room as interested parties gathered to hear the commission’s decision concerning letters to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission [FERC] and the Forest Service in regards to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
Opening the ACP discussion at 5:45 p.m. with a period of public comment, the commission listened as a number of residents and visitors took time to express their concerns and oppositions.
“We must look to you, our county commission, to be our loud voice for the protection of our land,” local John Leyzorek stated. “We must ask you to – not only oppose one particular new-ish, not so northernly route – but rethink your original position and absolutely oppose any route through Pocahontas County.”
Pocahontas County Commission candidate Ben Wilfong also urged the commission to be the county’s voice, expressing his concerns for the rights of property owners whose land falls within the pipeline’s path.
“Will our voice be heard as much as theirs?” he asked of the commission. “Property owners deserve a voice, and they deserve the option – if they wish – for the pipeline to go through. That’s their option as a property owner, but let’s come up with a route and move forward with it. With all of the major changes, we’re constantly stirring people up.”
A number of people continued to voice their opinions, but when it came time for the commission to respond, Commissioner Jamie Walker turned his attention toward life in the area and spoke of the struggles faced by many within the county – himself included.
“It really bothers me to look at somebody who’s struggling and sees the potential benefit of the pipeline coming through their property,” he said, “and the idea of standing up and saying that I’m going to take that away bothers me. They’ve got just as much right as the people who are against the pipeline. I stand for property rights, and if every single person, who the pipeline is going to affect, would come here and say they didn’t want it, I’d one hundred percent stand up and oppose it. I don’t think that’s the case. I think there are people who see the pipeline as an opportunity for a break in their life, and I’m going to support that.”
In light of the opposition, Commissioner David McLaughlin added his disapproval for the proposed alternate route to the conversation and encouraged the community to work together to find a route that worked for everyone before a route was decided for them.
Commission President Bill Beard seconded McLaughlin’s thoughts by reaffirming his support of the original route proposed by Dominion.
“It’s less of an impact,” he said. “and it’s the shortest route thus far. The alternate route isn’t good for the county, and I think it’s better for us to give a little bit than to take from a private landowner.”
Very few county residents have attended previous commission meetings to express support for the pipeline, but Louise Barnisky, of Marlinton, had something to say in the face of the opposition. Barnisky has spent the majority of her life in Pocahontas County despite the hardships the county has faced.
“I look around here tonight,” Barnisky began, “and I see very few people that I know. When my husband and I married, we opted to stay here and raise our family because we thought it was a wonderful place to come, but you people moved away. You moved away, made a lot of money and then came back. You don’t understand that we have children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren here that are struggling to make a living because there’s nothing here.
“We have nothing, and I’m sorry that you people are not giving this county a chance to come back again. Just think of what this could bring to us! This country is in bad shape – not just Pocahontas County – and you people are fighting for us to have nothing.”
In the end, two motions were made that night.
The commission voted to draft a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and request that they schedule a scoping meeting in Pocahontas County, as well as draft a letter to the Forest Service asking them to reconsider the original pipeline route rather than the proposed alternative.
In other news:
- The commission hired Tim Sayer, as recommended by the Civil Service Commission, as a full-time Pocahontas County Law Enforcement Deputy, effective March 16, 2016. The commission approved Sheriff David Jonese’s in-house budget revision.
- Allen Johnson, president of the Eight Rivers Council, presented the commission with an economic study anticipated effects of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. While the presentation focused on the economic impacts a pipeline could have in Nelson County, Virginia, Johnson urged the commission to consider conducting a similar study for Pocahontas County.
- At the recommendation of the Pocahontas County Local Community Corrections board, the commission hired Glen Galloway as the full-time Day Report Center Director and James Vandevander as a full-time Day Report Center Officer, effective March 28, 2016.
- The commission tabled the discussion concerning the management of Cass Community Park until a later date.
- The commission approved a list of poll workers for the May 10 Primary Election.
- The commission approved the 2016-2017 Pocahontas County budget.
The next regular County Commission meeting is scheduled for April 5, 2016, at 8:30 a.m.