On Thursday evening, Pocahontas County residents, alongside a handful of interested parties from neighboring Bath and Randolph counties, gathered at Snowshoe Mountain Resort’s Mountain Lodge for a “two-way dialogue” between landowners and Dominion employees.
Three weeks ago, Dominion made the announcement than an alternative route was being considered for its proposed pipeline. Rather than cutting through 13 miles of the Monongahela National Forest and nine properties in northern Pocahontas County, the route would cut across the center of the county and subsequently reduce the number of pipeline miles in the national forest to five.
However, the change drastically increased the number of properties affected by the route from eight to 51 and brought the pipeline into close proximity with Snowshoe Resort and Linwood Community Daycare.
Following a series of voiced concerns, Dominion proposed an alternative to its alternate route, and an Open House was scheduled to serve as an informal setting in which landowners and others could to learn more about the proposed pipeline.
“It’s [the Open House] meant to facilitate a two-way constructive dialogue,” Dominion’s Community/Media Relations Manager Aaron Ruby explained. “In public meetings, information is presented, but there’s not a lot of conversation. Here, residents – whether they’re landowners or concerned citizens – have the opportunity to speak with members of the project.”
Nine stations were set up throughout the room and dealt with various aspects of the project – such as community and economic benefits, construction and safety, a project overview and more. Each station was manned by a subject-matter expert. Other project members, who were not at a station – including the project’s two chief engineers – were talking with individuals or small groups in a more informal way.
It was Dominion’s “Land” table that garnered the most attention Thursday night.
Attendees were met at the door by Dominion greeters, and upon receiving their property’s parcel identification number, were led to the back of the room where they were paired with one of Dominion’s land agents to review a map of their parcel.
For those that opted to view their parcel digitally, Dominion utilized technology – similar to that of Google Earth – to zoom in and review each property in minute detail.
“It allows landowners to get a closer look at what the route looks like on their property,” Ruby added, “and talk to the agents about any issues – such as the family cemetery or the farm’s pond – the surveyors might encounter – important information we need to know.”
Despite Dominion’s efforts to soothe the public’s concerns with the interactive Open House, there were still those in attendance who expressed them.
Allen Johnson, a Pocahontas County resident of 38 years and president of Eight Rivers Council, was one of the attendees to voice his opposition.
“We don’t have major universities or interstate highways,” he commented, “and our major industry is tourism. A lot of people who live and move here do so because they want to live in a place like this – a place with knockout, beautiful scenery, [adj.] ecology, and clean rivers and streams.”
According to Johnson, if the proposed pipeline comes through, all of what makes Pocahontas County attractive to visitors could be tarnished.
“I moved here because of the national forest, its beauty, and clean water,” he commented, “and now there’s a possibility that I could fall into a two-year construction zone and the subsequent blast zone – all of which could affect my property values.”
While he may not be a landowner in the pipeline’s proposed path, Johnson is about 300 feet away from the proposed line running through his neighbor’s property.
Snowshoe Mountain Resort president Frank DeBerry took a moment to discuss his neutral stance on the matter at hand.
“I’m just here trying to learn,” he said, “and I feel that it’s important to do so in order to be able to speak up where I can. However, I’d rather see the pipeline go somewhere else entirely at this point.”
Before the alternate route was amended to exclude the Snowshoe and Linwood areas, DeBerry found the majority of his unrest focusing on property owner rights and water, as well as the impact a pipeline could have on residential areas.
“Those are the issues I worry about the most,” he commented. “If the pipeline comes through and cuts off access to someone’s water, what’s the recourse? What if they make a mistake in their surveying? The possibility of that bothers me a lot, and I’ll continue to speak up against it.”
However, prior experience with pipelines – located in the farmlands of New York – has left DeBerry with both a positive experience and the awareness that not every pipeline – or its workers – will be the same.
“The idea that the pipeline workers will be less than wholesome differs with every pipeline,” he remarked. “The experience I had was a pleasant one, but I know that I cannot speak for everyone.”
Although DeBerry spoke from personal experience, for most residents, concerns center around the unknown effects of pipeline construction and the fear that sensitive areas will be disturbed.
“The best way to develop a safe, environmentally-responsible route that has a minimal impact on every property is to actually go on the ground and survey the conditions on foot with a team of civil engineers and environmental specialists,” Ruby remarked. “Nobody knows the property like they [the landowners] do.”
Cailey Moore may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.