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Crowd gathers for Dominion presentation

County Commission1
POCAHONTAS COUNTY RESIDENTS kneeled, sat and stood throughout the county commission room Tuesday as Dominion Technical Consultant Robert Orndorff presented an alternate route for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to the commission. Front row: Assessor Tom Lane, County Commission Candidate Jo Debra Gandee; second row: retired Dominion advisor Ben Hardesty and concerned citizen Jeanne Bell. Photo courtesy of David Moore

Cailey Moore
Staff Writer

It was standing room only at Tuesday’s Pocahontas County Commission meeting as interested parties gathered to listen to Dominion Technical Consultant Robert Orndorff present a proposed alternative route for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

“I know it’s a major change for the route in Pocahontas and Randolph counties,” Orndorff explained. “The reason for the route changes – and we’ve talked about this in the past – is we ran into some issues in the past with the Monongahela National Forest with some endangered species and other habitat issues. We’re not abandoning that route, but we are considering an alternate route.”

Rather than cut through the northern end of the county – and the subsequent habitats found in the Cheat and Shenandoah Mountains – the pipeline’s alternative route would reduce the mileage through the national forests from 28.8 miles to 18.5 miles. However, the change in the pipeline’s route would add an additional 30 miles to the project and bring it through the Linwood and Snowshoe area.

“The route that you see in front of you will probably change,” Orndorff added. “This is an evolving process, and the map you have in front of you most likely will change.”

Following Orndorff’s presentation, the commission took time to pose questions about the new route and state their opinions.

Commission President Bill Beard began the discussion by reiterating the commission’s support of Dominion’s original proposed route that ran through the northern end of the county and had less of an impact, a shorter route and minimal cost effect.

“From my point of view, it had the least impact on the county,” he said. “The line ran through nine properties, and none of the landowners approached us and opposed it. To myself, I feel like that’s the only route I want to support. I’ve gotten numerous emails from people who are upset about the change and opposing it, and I feel strongly that this alternate route is not what’s best for the county.”

Commissioner David McLaughlin’s concern stemmed from the alternate route’s increased presence in Pocahontas County and the increased number of landowners who would be affected by it.

“Due to that huge change and the impact on more private land – and I’m sure a lot of opposition from those land owners, I’m like Bill,” he said. “I would support the northern route and encourage FERC to reconsider that.”

Commissioner Jamie Walker rounded out his fellow commissioners’ sentiments with a preference for the northern, less invasive route.

The conversation was then opened up to the public, and Elk River Touring owner Gil Willis, of Slaty Fork, was one of the first hear callers to express his concern.

“One of the most valuable assets to the state, especially this county, is our clean water,” he said. “We’ve got two farmers on the commission, and you guys value your water for your livestock. The rest of us, who don’t farm, highly value the clean water we have on our property, and for me, that’s one of the most valuable assets we have here.”

In addition to his concern for the water, Willis pointed out that the alternate route would bring the pipeline between the Linwood Community Daycare and Snowshoe, and have impacts on the land’s caves, karst and springs, as well as some of Pocahontas County’s more unique aspects – such as a Civil War burial ground on Valley Mountain Farm.

Pocahontas County Commission candidate Jo Debra Gandee, of Snowshoe, expressed a concern for where the pipeline workers would come from and what they would bring to the county.

“I am not in favor of the pipeline,” she said. “One problem I have with it is I have a lot of relatives and friends that work in the pipeline industry – some in the northern part of West Virginia and some in Ohio. I’ve talked with them a lot, as has my husband. The drugs and the prostitution that goes with these pipeline jobs is something Pocahontas County can’t afford. I think our police problem would escalate so much that I don’t know how, as a county, we can afford to control some of the behaviors of the pipeline workers – who, for the vast majority of them, will not come from this county.”

Another commission candidate Ben Wilfong, of Marlinton, brought to the discussion a question concerning property taxes.

“As far as the right-of-way compensation for landowners in Pocahontas County, what is an approximate value that you compensate everybody?”

Orndorff responded by stating, “Every property that we cross has a different value for a lot of different reasons – timber versus farming, etc. – and that’s a negotiated issue between each of the individual landowners that we work with.”

Wilfong then drew attention to previous tax income numbers – $5.3 million – that would begin to decline by almost $100,000 and asked Orndorff to explain the reasoning behind the decline.

“Typically, it’s depreciation,” Orndorff said. “As an asset gets older, there’s a depreciation curve that goes down, so the value of the asset itself is worth less than when it was initially put in the ground. It gets to the point where the depreciation stops, so at some point in time, the value of that asset will stop depreciating and will become a steady number.”

A number of other concerns were brought up throughout the discussion, including the care and maintenance of the pipeline.

Retired Dominion advisor Ben Hardesty explained, “The project in its entirety – the engineering and the operation is done out of Dominion’s office in Bridgeport. It’s monitored around the clock for integrity of the pipeline, any types of leaks, surface damage over the pipeline. It’s inspected by air, walking, and more or less, electronically monitored at all times. Maintenance is critical, and we have a budget for it that will be managed in West Virginia.”

“We’ve been operating pipelines for over one hundred and fifteen years,” Orndorff added. “The methods we use today to ensure the life of the pipelines are superior to methods used in the past. Our intent is to operate this pipeline forever.”

The commission made no motion following the discussion, but did acknowledge that the suggestion to draft a letter to FERC requesting a public meeting was a good idea and that it would be considered at its next meeting.

In other news:

  • The commission approved the Memorandum of Understanding with Mon Power Company to establish a Storm Restoration Staging Site at the northern end of the former Shoe Factory property.
  • The agreement between the commission and Inter-State Hardwoods was tabled until Assessor Tom Lane received word from the State Tax Department concerning Inter-State Hardwoods’ tax status.
  • The commission voted 2-0 to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding between the Pocahontas County Commission and the Pocahontas County Community Corrections Program for the establishment of the Pocahontas County Day Report Center for the 2016-2017 Fiscal Year. Commissioner Walker abstained from the vote due to his conflicting role as PCCCP President.
  • The commission agreed 2-0 to apply for a grant through the Division of Justice and Community Services and present the grant application for approval. Once again, Commissioner Walker abstained from the vote.
  • Revisions to the Pocahontas Memorial Hospital and the Federal Grants budgets were unanimously approved.
  • 2016-2017 Budget Work Sessions were scheduled.
  • Norman Alderman and John Leyzorek voiced their oppositions to the relocation of Pocahontas County records [prior to 1900] to the West Virginia Department of Culture and History in Charleston.

The next regular County Commission meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, March 15, 2016, at 5:30 p.m.

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