Meeting highlights pipeline concerns

BUCKHANNON — A standing-room-only crowd of concerned citizens listened Thursday evening to presentations about the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline project.

The meeting was hosted by community groups and conservation organizations, and it took place at the Performing Arts Center at West Virginia Wesleyan College in Buckhannon.

The proposed $5 billion natural gas pipeline project would span five counties in West Virginia, starting in Harrison County and going through Lewis, Upshur, Randolph and Pocahontas, before going into Virginia and North Carolina. It’s expected to span about 600 miles total.

One of the meeting organizers was April Pierson-Keating, president of the Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance, who said it’s important for local residents to learn about the potential impacts that a pipeline of this magnitude could have on the state, its residents, its environment and its drinking water.

“We want to keep our water clean,” Pierson-Keating said, citing concerns about a range of contaminants.

She also noted another one of her major concerns is the potential for explosions, as she said project documents show the proposed 42-inch pipeline would have a maximum impact radius of at least 3,600 feet and an evacuation radius of 2 miles.

“It’s a safety hazard to the community,” she said.

Pierson-Keating said Thursday’s meeting was designed to allow residents to hear in-depth information about the pipeline, and learn how they can share any of their concerns with state and federal agencies.

“We’re seeing a lot of interest,” she said, from citizens in Upshur County as well as Randolph and Lewis counties. She mentioned Pocahontas County also has an active group of concerned citizens who are interested in learning about potential impacts the pipeline could have.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has published a Draft Environmental Impact Statement on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project, and the public can comment on it through April 6.

Two FERC public comments sessions on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement have been scheduled, with one set for 5 to 9 p.m. Wednesday at the Gandy Dancer Theater in Elkins, and another set for 5 to 9 p.m. March 2 at the Community Wellness Center in Marlinton.

Thursday’s community meeting offered information about how concerned citizens can effectively share their specific questions and comments to the FERC as well as the U.S. Forest Service and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection. All three agencies have some type of public comment period related to the pipeline proposal.

One of the meeting’s speakers was Autumn Crowe, program director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, who shared details about the project’s potential effects on stream health and drinking water.

Crowe noted the current proposed pipeline route travels directly through Buckhannon’s Source Water Protection Area — a “zone of critical concern” for drinking water that is the most vulnerable to contamination.

She also highlighted concerns about pipeline construction’s potential damage to streams, including erosion, sedimentation, damage to aquatic life, destabalization to stream banks and other issues. Crowe said pipeline officials have said they will minimize erosion and other problems with control measures such as silt fences and trench plugs.

“The problem with some of the erosion control measures is they can fail, especially if they’re not maintained or they’re not installed properly,” Crowe said. “They need to be maintained after each rain event.”

She also said she is concerned that the proposal calls for an estimated 3.5 million gallons of water to be taken out of the Buckhannon River to use for testing purposes, and that water would be reused and then discharged in other areas. She said specific details about that water withdrawal have not been adequately addressed, and she said she wonders what type of impact that would have on the local water system.

“Those are some of the issues that we’re concerned about,” she said.

Crowe encouraged local landowners to get baseline data on both quality and quantity of local streams, in case the pipeline construction is approved. She said more information about data collection is available online at www.wvrivers.org/archive/waterupplymontoring.pdf.

Other speakers for the meeting included Jim Kotcon of the West Virginia Sierra Club, attorney Kyle Nuttal and Kevin Campbell of Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance.

Additional information is available at www.mountainlakespreservation.org or by calling 304-642-9436.

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