Pocahontas Commissioners Briefed by Dominion and Citizens Angry Over Pipeline Route
The Pocahontas Commission Office was standing room only, and angry citizens even spilled out into the hallway as the March 1st Commission meeting agenda called for a briefing by Dominion about the new proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline route which would now be more likely to destroy the habitats of people and resorts rather than salamanders and trees.
Robert Orndorff of Dominion Resources started the ball rolling with this statement.
“Several weeks ago we made a filing at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and announced that we were looking at a re-route” said Orndorff. “The map that I just gave you is on our web page. I am here to answer any questions you may have. I know it’s a major change for the route in Pocahontas County and Randolph County. The reason for the route change is that we ran into some issues in the Mon National Forest. Some Endangered Species and some other habitat issues which requires us not to abandon that route, but to consider an alternate route. All the routes that we have filed before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will be considered by them moving forward. They make the decision, working with us, working with the agencies, which route they would prefer given all the variables they have to consider.”
The new alternate route will now impact landowners in Bath County as well as Hyland, Randolph and Pocahontas Counties – and that is far more landowners than the previous “northern route” would have.
Commission President Beard called out Orndorff and Dominion for their attempt to bypass a recent Monroe County Court decision which affirmed the right of landowners to refuse to allow pipeline surveyors on their land, by supporting a bill in the WV legislature that would have allowed the surveyors to enter private property with or without permission granted. That bill failed to pass. Orndorff tried to explain that away, but the audience laughed at the attempt. First up is Commission President Beard, followed by Orndorff’s response, followed by the audience reaction.
“But it was your company pushing the bill ion Charleston” said Beard. Orndorff replied. “Well we push lots of bills, but they’re not necessarily our bill, it was the industry that was looking to pass that bill (…audience laughter…) we supported the bill!” said Orndorff.
Orndorff announced there would be an Open House at Snowshoe on March 10th to answer any public concerns.
The Commissioners heard from some of the audience. Norman Alderman asked if the pipeline running through the National Forest would generate property tax for the County. Orndorff said Dominion would pay personal property tax on the infrastructure, but not on the land. Alderman also asked for the names of the 249 landowners in Pocahontas County whose property would be directly affected by the new route, but was told that information could not be released yet.
Gil Willis of the Elk River Touring Center expressed his concerns about the impact of this route on tourism, the Snowshoe Resort, karst, springs, caves and Civil War historic sites. JoDebra Gandee echoed those concerns especially about water quality. Ben Wilfong wanted to know how many of those 249 property owners were in Pocahontas County and how many were in Randolph County, but Orndorff did not have an answer available. Wilfong also wanted to know if the construction jobs would be union jobs, and was told yes. He was also concerned about Eminent Domain – Orndorff said that was a last resort and 95% of landowners negotiate a settlement without that – and was concerned that depreciation would cut down on tax revenues over time.
John Leyzorek thought the pipeline revenues would be more than offset by the decline in property values of landowners whose property was dissected by the pipeline. While several others wanted to re-route the pipeline back to the original route through the National Forest, Leyzorek does not want it built at all.
Others expressed concerns over how close to the Inn at Snowshoe and the Day Care Center the pipeline would run. The Commissioners seemed to agree that while they still supported the Pipeline, they would probably not support this alternate route and will take the matter up formerly at a future meeting.
In other actions, the Commissioners signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Mon Power to allow the utility to stage vehicular equipment at the Former Shoe Factory parking lot during storm emergencies. They signed an Agreement with the Community Corrections Program to establish a County Day Report Center, and agreed to apply for a grant to the State to finance the program next fiscal year. They approved a budget revision and resolution for the Hospital and an overdue grant refund from the State.
The meeting ended with payment of invoices.