Eyes will be on big pipeline projects as they stretch out across WV

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia residents are likely to see a lot of construction activity from big pipeline projects over the next months.

Atlantic Coast Pipeline, Mountain Valley Pipeline and Mountaineer Xpress projects are all at the beginning stages of construction, with activity likely to ramp up all across West Virginia.

Residents should be ready to make sure the pipeline developers are living up to their promises to minimize environmental consequences, says Angie Rosser, executive director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition.

Her organization has several training opportunities for West Virginians who want to be better equipped to keep an eye on the effects of the pipeline projects.

Meanwhile, the state Department of Environmental Protection has set up a web page for West Virginia’s many pipeline projects, offering descriptions and access to public documents.

That page includes information about Atlantic Coast, Mountain Valley and Mountaineer Xpress, along with Rover Pipeline plus a pipeline extension project by Mountaineer Gas in the Eastern Panhandle.

Angie Rosser

“Our objective is to educate local folks in knowing what to look for — when they see a problem, to document it and we’ll get it to the appropriate agency,” Rosser said in a telephone interview last week.

The West Virginia Rivers Coalition has teamed with Trout Unlimited to provide water quality assessment training.

“We started a couple of years ago to get baseline data before construction begins,” Rosser said. “We’ve got several thousand data points.”

There are about 200 active volunteers in the program. About 400 total have been trained.

Volunteers take water samples out of the stream for analysis. The training lasts a day with volunteers learning how to strategically select sample sites where there’s permission to gain access.  Another round of training will be announced for this spring.

“The most common risk is the runoff of the dirt and mud from all the exposed soil, just making a stream that shouldn’t be muddy very muddy,” Rosser said. “That’s really what we are looking for — the turbidity, muddy streams.”

A separate but related training session will be May 19 in Elkins. It’s a partnership with West Virginia’s DEP and Trout Unlimited on the “Save Our Streams” program for training on identifying and measuring the populations of very small bugs that form the base of the food chain.

Often, that means mayflies.

“What’s nice about them is they’re visible to the naked eye and a fairly good indicator of the biological health of the stream,” Rosser said. “If you have good bugs, you have good everything.”

The third component of the training that’s being offered is a web session for visual assessments.

The video session lasts about an hour and a half. The last 15 minutes is a question and answer segment.

“It’s about knowing what to look for in terms of what the companies call their best management practices in terms of controlling erosion and sediment from their work site,” Rosser said.

“When are those controls working and when are they not? The common methods they use are shown in pictures, pictures from when they’re looking in pretty good shape and when they’re failing.”

Citizens and landowners who participate are taught to document their concerns. Photographs should include a date stamp, along with data on longitude and latitude.

The Rivers Coalition proposes helping to screen the evidence of people’s concerns — taking the information to the Department of Environmental Protection.

“We’re trying to convince DEP that we can help them out,” Rosser said. “We can help screen what we imagine will be a lot of reports and complaints.”

Rosser and the West Virginia Rivers Coalition planned to meet last week with officials with DEP to work out some cooperative efforts.

Meanwhile, across the border in Virginia, citizen volunteers were working out some of the same issues with leaders of that state’s Department of Environmental Quality. Both Mountain Valley Pipeline and Atlantic Coast Pipeline are routed through Virginia.

In Virginia, Mountain Valley Watch has started training sessions for volunteers. The effort includes an interactive website, newrivergeographics.com

After a recent private discussion with Virginia activists, Virginia DEQ Director David Paylor acknowledged the potential benefits of the help. “We’ve only got so many eyes on the ground,” Paylor told the Roanoke Times.

Rosser hopes West Virginia regulators will view pipeline construction in West Virginia with a similar spirit of cooperation.

“Our goal is to be able to alert DEP early on to identify a problem before it gets worse,” Rosser said. “We cannot imagine with the staffing levels we’re hearing they have now that they can be everywhere all the time.”

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