Waiting her turn

Beth Covington, who owns a dairy goat farm in Monroe County, was waiting her turn to speak to a representative of FERC (Federal Regulatory Energy Commission) at Peterstown Elementary School Thursday night on the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline.

PETERSTOWN — Many Monroe County residents are not happy about a proposed natural gas pipeline that would cut across the county, and they got a chance to give a government agency their opinions on Thursday night at Peterstown Elementary School.

Representatives of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) were on hand to take statements from residents about the proposed pipeline, in particular opinions related to the recent completion of a Draft Environmental Impact Study (DEIS).

The statements were limited to three minutes and taken by a stenographer in private.

Called the Mountain Valley Pipeline, the 300-mile, 42-inch diameter line would carry natural gas from the Marcellus Shale field in northwestern West Virginia to a transfer point in Chatham, Va. near Smith Mountain Lake.

An estimated $3.5 billion project, the line would cut through the northeastern portion of Summers County then into the northwestern corridor of Monroe County north of Wayside, going south and crossing Rt. 219 east of Lindside, just west of Cook’s Run Road.

The line would exit into Giles County north of Pearisburg after crossing Peters Mountain.

In Giles County, the proposed route then goes east, roughly north of and following of U.S. 460, through the Newport area and exiting into Montgomery County in the far western point of the county.

The project is a joint venture with several companies, including EQT, a Pittsburgh-based energy company.

After the line was first proposed about two years ago, opposition groups have formed in many of the counties impacted.

The groups locally are Preserve Monroe and Preserve Giles and they have alliances with national environmental preservation groups like the Sierra Club and Bold Alliance.

Citing dangers associated with water quality, steep and rugged terrain, impact on the beauty and quality of the environment, endangered species and explosions, Monroe County residents attending the meeting Thursday were adamantly opposed to the pipeline.

About 37 residents signed up to speak to a stenographer. While they awaited their turns, they gathered in the gym, some talking about the pipeline and its impact.

Maury Johnson, who owns a farm near Greenville, is with Preserve Monroe and said the pipeline would be close to his home.

“I think it’s really a bad deal,” he said. “There is not a good thing about it.”

Johnson said the environmental impact study ignores the abundance of springs and caves in the county that could be impacted by the line which would initially cut a possible 500-foot wide swath in its path, although the advertised width is 125 feet with a final width of 50 feet for the pipeline itself.

Johnson said he believes the easement will be much wider than what the company says it will be to accommodate other lines that may come through.

He also expressed concern about the danger of an explosion.

“I am instantly incinerated,” he said, referring to the close proximity of his house to the pipeline. “This is my big concern.”

Johnson said he lives in the blast zone but some of his neighbors may not be killed instantly, just badly burned.

Endangered species is also a concern, he said, especially local bat habitats within the Greenville saltpeter cave.

Johnson made it clear residents are not giving up.

“We are too proud of what we have to let it go without a fight,” he said. “What happened in North Dakota could very well happen here.”

Johnson was referring to the Dakota Access Pipeline protesters who have been camping out since April to protest an oil pipeline that they say would cross sacred burial grounds and the Missouri River ... the main water source for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

Nancy Bouldin, also of Greenville, is with the Indian Creek Watershed Association.

She lives “not far from where the pipeline would cross Indian Creek.”

“The concern is the water,” she said, adding that springs and caves could be impacted, which also makes the stability of line questionable.

“It seems like they are ignoring this (in the EIS),” she said.

Although the pipeline is not slated to run near Ashby Berkeley’s residence and business in Sweet Springs, he is concerned about the impact of it crossing Peters Mountain.

Berkley bought the Old Sweet Springs resort, a place that was once visited by several presidents, including George Washington.

“We made a significant investment,” he said. “But the pipeline is an abomination.”

The resort has springs, both cold and warm, which is why it’s famous. Berkeley also pointed out the Sweet Springs Valley Water Co. in Gap Mills, which bottles water from Peters Mountain.

“The aquifer, which is unique in the world, runs the whole length of the mountain,’” he said, adding that no one knows how it would be impacted with the pipeline construction.

Berkeley said he plans to organize a bus trip to Washington to protest the pipeline at the Capitol Building and the White House.

Laurie Ardison of Monroe County co-founded an organization called POWHR (Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights) after she became involved in learning about the pipeline two years ago.

“Shortly after the MVP was on the radar I started going to meetings,” she said, traveling to all the localities it would impact.

Ardison said she was convinced the pipeline was dangerous and would have too great an impact on the environment.

“I knew we needed a response, a coalition,” she said.

Now with 13 active members, the group continues to travel, meet with people and help coordinate activities with other opposition groups.

They also have raised money and hired experts in various fields to present their research, as well as attorneys.

“We have put together a tremendous effort to create a formidable response,” she said.

Ardison said the pipeline would cross steep slopes, unstable topography, and karst (underground caves and sinkholes), posing risks of line breaks.

Not only that, she said, the direct blast zone impact travels two-thirds of a mile in each direction from the epicenter of the explosion.

“The walls of the pipe are much thinner in rural areas with 1,440 PSI (pounds per square inch),” she said. “And shutoff valves would be 20 miles apart.”

Another issue with the process, she said, has been the surveying. Many property owners in Monroe County have not allowed pipeline company surveyors on their property.

That resulted in a lawsuit last year filed by MVP in Monroe County against landowners. The suit said the right of access is part of eminent domain, which can result when a project is deemed overall to be for the public good.

But Ardison said Circuit Court Judge Robert Irons in Union ruled that there was not enough evidence that the pipeline is for the public good, so he rejected the suit in favor of the landowners.

That case was recently heard by the state Supreme Court, she said, after MVP appealed the decision.

Landowners in Virginia have not been so fortunate, she said, because the courts ruled in favor of the company, not the landowners.

Beth Covington, a farmer who raises dairy goats near Greenville, said the pipeline’s route takes it a quarter of a mile from where she lives.

“That would basically affect everything I do,” she said, calling the dangers posed by the pipeline a “life and death” issue.

Covington said the topography of the county creates too much instability to bury a huge natural gas pipe.

“I have well water and that is a major concern too,” she said.

Covington said she also got the impression after attending meetings about the pipeline that no one with the companies or government is really listening to their concerns.

“A lot of people around here feel beaten down,” she said. “It’s like it’s a done deal.”

She said that everyone who lives in this region should be concerned.

“If that pipeline comes through here, it’s like we are putting out the welcome mat for other pipelines,” she said.

Johnson agreed, saying the companies are pushing for that 500-ft. wide corridor.

“They (FERC) is being pressured to do that,” he said.

For Willis and Shirley Hall, though, the pipeline is a threat to a way of life they have worked for, and retired to, at their home in Rock Camp.

The proposed route takes it only one mile from their home, and their spring.

“Our spring water comes out of a rock,” she said. “Seven other families are on that spring.”

A spring box collects the water and then gravity does the rest.

They both are concerned their spring could be impacted, and they are upset over the destruction of the land and other dangers possibly posed by the pipeline.

“It would be horrible to look at it,” Willis Hall said. “We thought about moving if if comes through. But where would we go?”

Hall said they have put a lot of work into building the home they want.

“I would be devastated,” he said. “We don’t want to leave. This is very stressful for people.”

Tamara Young-Allen, public affairs liaison with the FERC Washington D.C. office, said concerns of residents will be addressed.

“We don’t ignore it, we take into consideration all of the comments,” she said. “When our staff goes back to do the final environmental impact study they will address these concerns.”

Young-Allen said the DEIS is a draft and subject to revisions and additional analysis.

Conditions could be placed before final approval of the project.

“Those conditions would have to be met to reduce any potential environmental impact,” she said. “We are required to review these issues and make recommendations on the way to mitigate any environmental impact.”

Young-Allen said the bottom line is that if FERC approves the project it would have to be convinced that it would not have any significant impact on the environment.

“All of this is required by the National Environmental Policy Act,” she said.

The final environmental impact study should be finished by next spring, she said, and then it will be sent to a FERC commission, consisting of five members.

Currently, the commission has only three members, appointed by President Obama, after two left, so the President will appoint two to fill those spots.

But she said she is not sure if President Obama will do that before he leaves office or the next president.

Young-Allen said the commission will make the final decision based on the MVP’s request for a certificate of public convenience and necessity, which basically gives the company power of eminent domain if FERC approves.

Federal law trumps state law, she said, so the company would have access to land even if the landowners protested.

As far as surveying goes, If the FERC approves the project and no agreement with the landowner is reached, the pipeline may acquire the easement under eminent domain with a court determining compensation if necessary.

Landowners who are impacted do get compensated for the pipeline crossing their land.

Young-Allen said that after the final approval, the pipeline project can proceed as long as any conditions attached have been met and any possible environmental issue mitigated.

If FERC gives final approval, construction of the pipeline is scheduled to begin in summer of 2017 with completion projected to be by the end of 2018.

But, she said, that timeline is not necessarily what will be followed.

According to the MVP website, the company is subject to many regulatory agencies.

The construction and operation of the pipeline is governed by strict state and federal environmental regulations, the website says.

The proposed MVP project is being designed with safety as its top priority, adopting design features and operating practices that will exceed already stringent industry and regulatory safety standards, the website says. Some of the measures will include:

• Remote controlled shut off valves monitored 24-hours-a-day.

• More frequent inspections than are required by law, including regular inspections with highly sophisticated internal inspection tools.

• X-raying 100% of pipeline welds.

• In certain locations, installing thicker steel pipe than is required by regulations.

The MVP will be constructed and owned by Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC, which is a joint venture of EQT Midstream Partners, LP; NextEra US Gas Assets, LLC; Con Edison Gas Midstream, LLC ; WGL Midstream; and RGC Midstream, LLC. EQT Midstream Partners will operate the pipeline and own a significant interest in the joint venture.

Young-Allen said that although the community meetings with FERC have ended, comments from residents can still be received and are due Dec. 22.

They can be submitted online at ferc.gov. or mailed to Kimberly Bose, FERC, 888 First St. NE Washington D.C. 20426.

— Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com