ELKINS — While law enforcement officials have some concerns about workers entering the area for the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline project, another county leader believes it will be an economic boost for Randolph County.
Randolph County Sheriff Mark T. Brady said the pipeline work is scheduled to take place in a rural portion of the county.
“From our understanding the pipeline is coming through the southwest area of Randolph County, which we believe will be coming through the Pickens, Helvetia, Turkey Bone and Monterville part of Randolph County,” Brady said. “It is our understanding the initial part of the project is to begin in spring of 2018.”
He noted it could take deputies upward of an hour to get to these locations, due to the work being such a remote area. He added the roads into the area are also narrow and can take longer to get to in winter months when weather is bad.
“Depending on where a deputy would be located in Randolph County, it could be possibly an hour or more travel time to that area. It is in the most southern, most western portion of Randolph County, which covers 1,040 square miles,” he said. “The county seat is Elkins and it is an hour drive from Elkins to that area.”
At this time, it is unknown exactly how many employees would be working on the pipeline, but Brady described it as a “major influx” into the area.
“We are not sure the amount of workers and also subcontractors that are coming into the area which will definitely be a major influx of personnel into the southern end of Randolph County,” Brady said.
Brady added that his office is working on planning to ensure the safety of both the pipeline workers and the nearby communities.
“Our concern is logistics. We are trying to get ahead of the logistics to determine how we can best serve the folks in that area as well as the influx of personnel into the area to make sure everyone is safe and we don’t have a major increase in crimes in the area,” he said.
“Another concern is are we going to get an increase of traffic crashes, accidental injuries over there, any crimes that may be accompanied in the area due to the influx of folks and also conflicts between the various groups who either oppose the construction of the gas pipeline and those who are in favor of the gas pipeline,” Brady said. “We could foresee that coming in the future also, and we still have to answer the calls throughout the rest of the county. As everyone is aware we have an opioid drug crisis, as everywhere else has. We are still taking care of those issues and taking care of the everyday calls deputies respond to. We are at our highest level of calls we’ve ever had here.”
He added they have spoke with officials of Dominion Resources and steps are being taken to work together.
“We have had meetings with Dominion Resources personnel to discuss some of the challenges we face and we are moving forward to address those challenges,” Brady said.
Brady said patrolling these rural areas will affect every police agency, as well as EMS and fire departments.
“This will not only affect the Randolph County Sheriff’s Office but will also affect the West Virginia State Police, the Randolph County Emergency Services and the fire departments up in the Valley Head and Pickens area,” Brady said.
Brady added he has been working with the county commission in an attempt to increase manpower on his staff.
“Our definite problem is personnel. We just do not have the staffing to handle major influxes of folks in those areas at this time,” Brady said. “We’ve attempted to work with the county commission in the past to hire more deputies with this coming but did not get the funding, and also had difficulties in getting people applying and passing all the backgrounds (checks) to get the personnel.”
The Randolph County Sheriff’s Office is funded for 13 full-time deputies and one part-time deputy. A total of 12 of the positions are currently filled.
Randolph County Commission President Mike Taylor said while he believes the increase of people and lengthy response times will be an issue, county officials have been working with Dominion Resources officials to ensure the county can provide adequate emergency services.
“We have been in discussions for the last six months with representatives of the pipeline, their safety officers and their liaisons. One of our concerns is that our first responders have adequate communications in the rugged area they will be working in the event that there is an accident of some type during the construction phase, that Randolph County can provide the best possible emergency response services to those folks to get them to the closest hospital,” Taylor said. “Up to and including going out into the field and setting up pre-determined landing zones.”
Taylor added he is confident in the ability of first responders throughout the county.
“I have all the confidence in the world that our sheriff and emergency responders will handle it adequately,” he said. “Other than maybe some traffic congestion from time to time, I don’t see a real issue in the foreseeable future.”
He added he also believes the influx of people will positively affect the Randolph County economy.
“I think it is going to have a positive affect on the county. I know people are putting in additional campgrounds and I think it’s an opportunity for local businesses,” he said. “There will be supplies that are needed, anything from groceries to gas, parts – auto parts, truck parts, machinery parts and so forth – it will benefit the businesses of Randolph County.
“With that is going to come an influx of individuals. As with any influx of individuals, there could be challenges. I know the sheriff has been engaged with the (Dominion) folks, along with the state police,” he added. “They are trying to prepare for different possible scenarios by talking to their counterparts in other parts of the state that have already gone through this.”