Pipeline route in county changed
A busload of Dominion Resources Corporation representatives arrived in Durbin last Wednesday to conduct an open house at the Durbin Fire Department. The purpose of the open house was to provide information and receive public input on a proposal to build a large-diameter natural gas pipeline through northern Pocahontas County. During the event, Dominion officials reported a change to the proposed pipeline route in Pocahontas County.
Dominion and three other energy corporations formed a partnership last month to build a 550-mile pipeline from Harrison County to North Carolina, which they call the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. If necessary approvals are obtained from federal and state regulators, Dominion will build the pipeline across approximately 12 miles of rugged terrain in northern Pocahontas County – including several miles of the Monongahela National Forest. The 42-inch pipeline would be buried three feet underground and carry natural gas at pressures between 750 and 1400 pounds per square inch. A 130-foot clear-cut along the pipeline path would be necessary during construction, and a permanent 75-foot clear-cut would be maintained as long as the pipeline is operational. More than 150 acres of National Forest in Pocahontas County would be clear cut for pipeline construction, not including access roads.
An estimated 100 people visited the open house from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Representatives of environmental groups set up tables outside the fire hall to provide information on the pipeline’s environmental impact. No animosity or confrontations occurred during the event.
County Commissioner David Fleming, State Farm Bureau President and County Commission candidate Charles Wilfong, and House of Delegates candidate Charles Kinnison attended the event.
Dominion set up several display areas in the fire hall for various aspects of the pipeline project, including a project overview, engineering, construction and land acquisition. Large aerial photographs were displayed with a pipeline corridor indicated by yellow lines. But a different route was drawn with red permanent marker on the maps. Dominion construction supervisor Greg Park explained that he had drawn the new route on the map and that the change had been made as a result of consultations with National Forest managers.
The new route is shifted to the north as it enters Pocahontas County from the west. The previous route crossed Shavers Forks approximately 1.5 miles south of Cheat Bridge, in the area of Cheat Mountain Club lodge and several upscale homes. The new route crosses Shavers Fork in the vicinity of Cheat Bridge and avoids the upscale development. Instead of crossing the West Fork of the Greenbrier River two miles north of Durbin, the new route crosses the West Fork approximately four miles north of Durbin. The changed section of the route rejoins the original route approximately two miles north of Frank.
The former route crossed 28 parcels of private property and National Forest land in Pocahontas County. Dominion officials were uncertain how the route change had affected the number of parcels of private property in the pipeline path.
See aerial photographs with new route shown at bottom of this article
Park, project engineer Britanny Moody and corporate communications executive Robert Fulton answered a series of questions from The Pocahontas Times at the open house. The questions and responses follow.
Times: Will natural gas be available for residential or industrial use in Pocahontas County from this pipeline?
Fulton: Very rarely – because this is a very high pressure pipeline, it would be very difficult to do that. But, if there was a distribution company that would want to come in and there was capacity on the line, then certainly, they can make application to get the capacity on the line, if they did. It would be rather expensive for a distribution company to do that, but it is possible.
Times: Can a 42-inch line be drilled underneath waterways or is that just something for smaller pipelines?
Moody: Yes, it absolutely can. We’ve got different types of boring methods. We’ve got conventional bores and then we also have horizontal directional drill. So, there’s definitely methods we can use like that. It all depends on topography and terrain whether we can implement those methods.
Times: Are there other locations where a 42-inch line has been put underneath a waterway with that method?
Park: Sure – we just had that question from one of the concerned landowners. The Ruby Pipeline was built, I think in 2010 or eleven. It’s out west and covered three states – Oregon, Nevada and Utah. A very similar size – 670 mile project, 42-inch, and the same type of topography, only on the west coast.
Times: So, that might be possible for some of our sensitive waterways – would that be more protective of the waterway than blasting a trench through the river?
Moody: Not necessarily. Sometimes, when we do our dry-ditch crossing, which means we can dam and pump the water around and then we do an open trench. Then, you know, there’s little ways that you can get sediment because, by the time that you put it in, in a dry method, cover it back in and let the water come back and have it all restored immediately. Sometimes, that is less intrusive.
Park: I guess, to tackle what Britt’s saying, basically is, in conjunction with that, we have time of year constructions for spawning season for different aquatic stuff, you know, fish and the other critters. And then also, with that spawning season restriction, also will be a time of year restriction for like now, when the water level is really, really low. So, it’s almost like a dry crossing already. So, the problem all the times with the directional drill, HDD [horizontal directional drill], or the horizontal drill crossing – if the ground or the rock substrate doesn’t warrant that type – the structure may not be solid and if it’s got fissures in it and we start drilling in it, that annular space of the drill going through, it’s got an annular suppressor on it. If you have a fissure, that pressure, we can’t hold that pressure in and that drill will migrate. It will actually migrate.
Times: So, it has to be ideal conditions for that method?
Park: Exactly. It’s a real complicated system and that’s just a real brief overview of it. Honestly, we’ve experienced a lot of problems with the directional drill, actually, with the drill migrating.”
Moody: If you’ve got the right topography and the right overburden, it works great. But if not, it can be more of a problem.
Times: What happens when the natural gas is expended, will the pipeline be removed?
Fulton: There is adequate supply and they’re finding more and more, so the lifespan of these pipelines could be 40 or 50 years. Fifty years out, we will still have natural gas. With the technologies that they have out there, they’re finding gas in places they thought they would never find it.
Times: So, we’re just assuming that it’s going to last forever and there’s no plan at the end of that time for what to do with the pipeline?
Fulton: No, because the assumption is that we’re going to be flowing gas in there for quite awhile. Now, if you abandon a pipeline, sometimes you can’t come and take the pipeline out, it’s abandoned and that has happened in other areas, where the supply or the need is not as great. But in the past, they have removed pipelines, or they use it for something else, you know, another product or something else.
Times: Will any local contractors be hired for any phase of pipeline construction?
Park: I’ve had that question several times this evening and throughout the whole project. Dominion will hire the general contractor and there may be several general contractors. There could be three or four general contractors. At that point, it would be up to them to start doing the subcontracting. Eventually, with some of the maintenance and some of the residual work that’s up there, we will pick up local contractors in different areas, scattered throughout the line to help with our maintenance and isolated things that need to be fixed.
Times: I keep hearing about jobs coming to Pocahontas County with the pipeline. Where can people apply for these jobs, or is it too early?
Park: For the company, for Dominion as a company, it would be our dom.com site and it’s under career opportunities. As far as the contractor and applying for that work, it is too early.
Moody: We don’t even have contractors lined up at this time.
Times: If there is environmental damage, will Dominion pay for restoration?
Fulton: That’s the whole idea of going through and doing the surveys and these types of meetings, to find out where the environmental issues are and to avoid them. We go back and do reclamation on the land, to put the land back to pretty much its original contour, where possible. As far as environmental, we try to avoid anything that would be detrimental.
Moody: Any streams or wetlands that we cross are the most highly regulated. We have to get permits for everything we do. We have to do studies for cultural, for endangered species, you know, for any kind of impact to the environment. We have to site analyze and write up a resource report that we provide to FERC [Federal Energy Regulatory Commission].
Fulton: And FERC has a representative on the pipeline during construction. If they see an issue they’re concerned about, they’ll bring it to our attention right away and we can take care of it and mitigate it. We are monitored, even through the construction phase.
Times: When will the final route be provided?
Park: Really, honestly, the route could change right up until construction.
Times: How is that providing information to the public to make up their minds about the project?
Park: The thing is, the public or the stakeholders, as we call them, along with the agencies, being the Mon Forest and the GW [George Washington National] Forest, or others – as we learn more information through open houses and public input, like we’re having right now, and getting more in detail and knowing more specifics about the property owners’ concerns – the route, we’re still adjusting it. To be fair to everybody we need to get people’s input to see what the concerns are.
Times: So the route could change right up to when you’re digging the trench?
Park: I wouldn’t say it would go up to the dig, but it could change for the next couple years – slightly.
Moody: We plan on pretty much finalizing our preliminary surveys, hopefully by the first quarter of 2015. Then, after that, as we receive input and we get our environmental and cultural folks out on the ground and they find things that make us move, like karst and different things we encounter, we will continue to make minor adjustments, so that we can come up with a route that has the least impact.
Times: Why can’t the pipeline be built somewhere other than the National Forest?
Moody: Basically, it’s just the way the National Forest is running. We’ve got to cross it in order to get where we’re going. It’s so long that we can’t get above or below it. We’ve got to go through it.
Times: It depends on what scale map you’re looking at. On a large scale map, it doesn’t look that big. It’s a $5 billion project, can’t you go around it?
Moody: The problem is, when you add that much mileage, you’re impacting so much more acreage. You’re cutting so many more forests and you’re impacting so many more streams and mountains and you’re adding so much more impact on the environment, that it ends up being worse than if you just take the shortest path and impact the least amount of ground.
Park: You start adding mileage, it automatically adds more impacts and more acres to serve.
The Pocahontas Times also consulted with senior land agent Jamie Burton.
Times: How much do people get paid for pipeline easements?
Burton: The payment would be based on a couple things. One is the value of the property in the area. We need to do the dollar amount value, inspections on the property, how much they’re worth. Then there’s also the amount of pipeline that’s on their property and the timber that’s on their property. That all affects the price, between the damages and the actual consideration payment to the landowner.
Times: What if someone bought a cabin in this area and just enjoyed looking out at the forest in his backyard? Is there any calculation for aesthetics?
Burton: We wouldn’t have cleared it or wouldn’t have installed the pipe until we had gotten an easement agreement from him on his property. But, as it comes to aesthetics or viewership, I have never seen it included in consideration.
Times: Would a property owner ever get paid more than fair market value for his property?
Burton: In some cases, yes.
Times: What cases would those be?
Burton: I think it just depends on the situation. I don’t have a response, a black and white response for you on that. I do apologize.
At 8 p.m., the Dominion representatives began disassembling the display stations and loading their bus. The group was scheduled to provide an open house in North Carolina the following day.