Highlanders for Responsible Development Declare Opposition to Pipeline Project


On Tuesday, September 2nd, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe and West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin issued press releases in support of the proposed natural gas pipeline crossing both states, now known as the Atlantic Coast Pipeline after the joint venture formed between Dominion Power, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas, and AGL Resources .

The following day, Highlanders for Responsible Development released a statement in opposition to the proposed project. Allegheny Mountain Radio spoke with Lewis Freeman, president of HRD, for more details. Mr.Freeman noted that this organization had been formed nearly 10 years ago, and it’s mission was to be concerned about protecting the lifestyle and natural resources of Highland County.

“When Dominion announced in late May its’ proposed pipeline, we expressed concern about the pipeline,” Freeman said. “What would be, for instance, the impact on the environment if you’re going to dig a large trench through twenty-plus miles of Highland County, what impact would that have, on water, on wildlife, on other ecological concerns? Secondly, what would be the impact, positively or negatively, economically on the community and affected landowners? Dominion’s responses, not only at the Highland briefing, but at all the briefings, have added ambiguity and uncertainty as to indeed what this impact would be.”

He went on to explain the group’s initial and continued concerns about the project. “Highland County, as well as neighboring Augusta County, have geological formations called karst. It is limestone that over hundreds of thousands of years has acquired channels so that water moves from one place to another. In other words, it’s unstable, or less stable than other land. We believe that building a pipeline through this type of topography is very risky and will potentially endanger the water supply, not only that flows into the watersheds of some major rivers on the east coast, but also some of the water supplies for some of the landowners in the area.”

“It’s interesting that Dominion seems to agree with that,” Freeman went on to say. “They have said on numerous occasions in public meetings at which I’ve been present that they recognize the problems with karst topography, and that they would avoid building over karst topography and sinkholes.

“You cannot cross Highland County, you can’t cross Augusta County, without encountering karst topography.”

HRD’s hesitance to the project also resolved around economic impact. While the governors’ statements touted job creation and economic benefits for their respective states, Mr. Freeman noted HRD was primarily focused on local impacts. From an economic standpoint, Mr. Freeman he could not comment on the reported benefits to the state, because he did not know the basis for the figures.

“In all due respect to both governors, I know their concerns about jobs, particularly in this economy, but I also strongly feel that they are not completely informed about some of the cons associated with this proposal. I think any economic study is only as good as the premises on which it’s based, and I have no idea on what that study was based on.

“I think of greater concern is what will be the impact on people wanting to move to Highland County, and we’ve already seen some evidence that there is a negative effect on people being interested in moving to areas that are near the proposed pipeline.”

Even though business and political backing seem strong, Freeman noted that there were still many steps before the project could get underway. First comes an initial application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, indicating intent to proceed, followed by a formal application, likely in 2015. FERC would require numerous studies before allowing the project to go forward. It would also face scrutiny from the agencies tasked with oversight of the Monongahela and George Washington National Forests, as well as national parks and the Appalachian Trail, which all lie in the pipeline’s intended path. Citizens would have the capability to provide input to each of these entities.

While local governing bodies, would have no voting authority over the pipeline, Freeman noted that a vote of either Yea or Nay in support of the project would carry weight during oversight proceedings.

“I think some people, after they heard the governors’ make their pronouncements, said, well, it’s over. Far from it!”

“Economic development in this county is very important, and we applaud it, and we want to do whatever we can to support it. But that doesn’t mean any and all economic development. There’s some economic development that’s right for one community and not right for another. In Highland County, we have an incredibly special setting of natural resources – the mountains, the landscape, the water. We are concerned about any impact on that, so we think the development also needs to be compatible. We think that is responsible development – based on everything we’ve heard, from Dominion, we do not believe that what they are proposing is responsible.”

Story By

Megan Moriarty

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