The courtroom in Highland County, Virginia was filled to capacity on August 5 for a meeting between the Highland County Supervisors and representatives of Dominion Resources, Inc. The hot topic on the agenda was a report from Dominion on a proposal to build a natural gas pipeline from West Virginia to North Carolina. The proposal has generated enormous local interest and concern because the 42-inch pipeline is plotted across northern Pocahontas County and central Highland County.
Several Dominion executives attended the meeting, including Vice President of Corporate Communications Chet Wade; Manager of Legislative, State and Local Affairs Emmett Toms; engineer Brittany Moody; Environmental Manager Bill Scarpinato; and Manager of Land Acquisition Ramona Kanouff. Dominion is based in Richmond, Virginia.
Wade and Toms gave information briefings, after which Supervisors asked questions. Members of the public were not allowed to participate in the session with Dominion.
Wade said Dominion has not decided to build the pipeline.
“Tonight, we will probably not have all the information that you want,” he said. “It’s not that we don’t want to give it to you. In part, it’s because, sometimes, the information just doesn’t exist yet. There’s not a final route. We haven’t made a decision to move forward yet. Lots of unanswered questions.”
Negotiations with potential customers must conclude before Dominion renders a decision to build or not to build.
“We are in negotiations right now with a number of potential customers for this project,” said Wade. “That’s a very key point in developing a project like this. Until you have customers, you really can’t move forward. “
Dominion expects to issue a decision within the next two months.
“We’ve had a lot of interest in this project,” said Wade. “There’s a lot of need for natural gas throughout Virginia and North Carolina. We expect, within the next 60 days, to be able to reach a conclusion of those discussions. At that point, you’d expect to hear more about our determination about whether we intend to move forward or not with the project.”
Toms said potential benefits to the local area from the project include property tax revenues, near-term employment opportunities, economic activity for local businesses and economic development potential. The manager said construction in Highland County would take about two years, if the project goes forward.
“The construction crews that will be here will be buying food, fuel and living here over a two-year period to construct the pipeline,” he said. “They will not be here for a full two years – they will do it in phases. For example, a weld on a 42-inch line takes about a day-and-a-half. The pipe is about 40 feet long, so the welders will be in the area for a long period of time,” he said. “But they will be doing that in stages.”
Environmental groups have stated concern about compressor stations, which cover several acres and contain multiple, noisy turbine engines to pressurize and transport gas through the pipeline. Toms said there will be no compressor station in Pocahontas or Highland County.
“There will be three compressor stations – one at the beginning of the pipeline in West Virginia, one in the central part of Virginia; and one near the North Carolina state line,” he said.
The origin of the pipeline is currently plotted in the Clarksburg area.
Toms said Dominion would file a pre-request with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in the fall if the company decides to build the pipeline. The company would file a formal request in the summer of 2016 and expect approval from FERC by summer 2016. If the company obtains FERC approval, it could begin construction of the pipeline in 2017 and place it into service by late 2018, according to Toms.
Supervisor David Blanchard asked about Dominion’s responsibilities in the event of water contamination.
“There are a lot of springs in Highland County,” said Blanchard. “What is your responsibility if you mess up a landowner’s spring?”
Scarpinato said the company would be proactive to avoid water problems.
“We’re going to be required to evaluate all springs, wells, and water bodies within 200 feet of our proposed service area – not just the actual right-of-way,” he said. “We are going to first try to avoid all springs, because that causes construction problems that we try to avoid,” he said. “Where we can’t, we’re going to have to study, evaluate, and negotiate with FERC and the landowners on how to properly proceed.”
Highland County Attorney Melissa Dowd expressed concern that pipeline construction would place a burden on local fire and rescue first responders. Dowd asked if Dominion could provide assets to alleviate the burden. Wade said “I can’t negotiate anything tonight,” but promised to investigate the possibility and provide an answer.
Supervisor Kevin Wagner asked if Dominion would use eminent domain to obtain easements. Wade responded that Dominion prefers to avoid the use of eminent domain.
“We work hard to negotiate a fair price with each landowner one by one,” Wade said. “Unfortunately, if we do get to that process, it’s only after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission says that what we’re doing is for the public good.”
Dominion representative Robert Orndorff is scheduled to attend the Pocahontas County Commission meeting on August 19 to provide information on the proposed pipeline in Pocahontas County. As of August 7, the Commission planned to dedicate 30 minutes for the pipeline discussion.