Groups opposed to natural gas pipeline projects hold informational meeting in Lewis County

JACKSON’S MILL, W. Va. — With multiple projects to construct natural gas pipelines through West Virginia in the planning and evaluation stages, several groups opposed to their construction played host to an informational meeting Saturday in Lewis County.

Residents of the county reached out to the Greenbrier River Watershed Association and the Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance, seeking information, since two of the major projects are proposed to run through their land.

On Saturday at Jackson’s Mill, the groups discussed the Mountain Valley Pipeline, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Rover Pipeline –all of which are in the pre-application period with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in charge off their approval– as well as the Appalachian Connector, which is still in the conceptual stages.

Elise Keaton, Outreach and Education Coordinator for the Greenbrier River Watershed Association admits that pipelines are not a new concept with 210 natural gas pipeline systems serving different purposes over 305,000 miles of interstate and intrastate pipelines –3,758 miles of which ran through West Virginia— according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration in 2008.

However, she said with natural gas on the rise the past few years, landowners find they do not fully understand the new look of the industry.

“Gas production has changed significantly. Instead of derricks on land, we now have hydrofracking and that changes the equation in terms of the landowners’ interaction with the company. There is a familiarity with the industry, but not with the practices and techniques.”

Joe Lovett, a lawyer with the non-profit group Appalachain Mountain Advocates gave a presentation on landowners’ rights and answered questions on topics such as when a company can and cannot come on one’s property for the purpose of surveying the land, how a company utilizes imminent domain and, for those who do wish to give the company the right to put a pipeline on their property, how to negotiate so they get the best deal overall.

“They do have a lot of negotiation ability,” Keaton said. “Within the easements, there are dozens of points of negotiation that very few people think of. For example, saving topsoil, what type of plants will be used to repopulate that piece of land. Empowering landowners to be prepared for this industry is really important.”

Lovett encouraged those in attendance, as well as those who could not make it, with more questions to contact their organization by phone or online.

The hundreds gathered Saturday also heard of the potential environmental impact the pipelines have on watersheds from Dr. Pamela C. Dodds, a registered professional independent geologist who has worked on similar issues as an expert witness for the Public Service Commission, with the state Environment Quality Board and other organizations since 2005.

Her main concern with the proposed pipelines is with their impact on surface runoff as most are positioned along mountain ridges, which begin headwaters for streams and also are the main contributor to soaking up groundwater once precipitation falls. The projects require some removal of trees and could potentially create steeper slopes in some areas.

“It’s going to impact our groundwater because it’s going to decrease the recharge of our groundwater and it’s going to cause increased quantity in water downstream, which will cause flooding and will cause streambank erosion.” Dobbs said.

The factors and others created by the pipelines, she explained can lead to a contamination of water quality.

“This is the mechanism why the sediment’s exceeding the [total maximum daily levels],” she said. “It’s that there’s so much water going downstream and making sediment go into the stream due to stream bank erosion, not that it’s not being controlled at the source, but with that increase that is not being controlled, it’s going to continue to cause more sediment.”

She recommends those impacted look at the Mifflin County, Pennsylvania Stormwater Management plan implemented in 2010 by the local Board of Commissioners there as a blueprint for regulating watershed quality in the future.

Keaton stressed the importance of gathering knowledge on these and other pipeline projects from as many sources as possible and join in the conversation leading up to the FERC’s decision on whether or not they are approved.

“We’re a long way from a certificate for construction and so landowners who want to oppose this need to contact us and find out where those networks are,” she said. “It’s not a done deal and they’re not alone if they’re in opposition. If they want the pipeline on their property, do the absolute best thing for themselves and be informed on all levels.”

The organization is planning a similar meeting in Craigsville on January 29 and is in talks to play host to events in Buckhannon and Harrison County.

For a pro-pipeline perspective, Dominion is putting on its own informational meetings for the ACP with open houses January 21 at the Elkins Gandy Conference Center from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. and January 22 at Jackson’s Mill at the same time. For the Supply Header project, a January 26 open house will be held from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Doddridge County Park.

EQT will be putting on an open house meeting, providing information on the Mountain Valley project, January 27 at the Progressive Women’s Association building from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. in Clarksburg.

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