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Mountain Valley Pipeline Opponents Want Local Say

Photo by ERICA YOON | The Roanoke Times. Jenny Chapman of Bent Mountain speaks to media during a news conference as (from left) Mark Laity-Snyder with Preserve Franklin, Fred First, local author and associate director of Preserve Floyd, Karen Maute with Piedmont Residents in Defense of the Environment, Elizabeth McCommon with Preserve the NRV, and Mark Clemmons of Henry County listen at the Floyd Country Store on Thursday.

FLOYD — Puppeteer Wesley Wenger wielded a serpentine length of aluminum foil dryer vent duct. It bobbed in the wintry breeze blowing down South Locust Street.

Two ping pong balls taped to one end served as imaginary eyes.

“This is my pipeline monster,” Wenger said.

Wenger was one of about 50 people who gathered Thursday at the birthplace of organized opposition to the proposed interstate Mountain Valley Pipeline to declare their commitment to stopping the $3.5 billion project.

The dominant message was that local governments and citizens should have the power to embrace or reject an energy infrastructure project planned by corporations for private gain.

As proposed by Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC, a joint venture of EQT Corp. and NextEra Energy, the 42-inch diameter, 300-mile buried pipeline would transport natural gas at high pressure from West Virginia to a delivery point in Pittsylvania County, Virginia.

Mountain Valley has consistently emphasized that the pipeline could yield economic benefits for communities along its route, as well as the state and nation. But opponents have scoffed at these claims, contending that much of the natural gas that would travel through the pipeline would likely be exported and that many local governments would not be able to afford to tap into the transmission pipeline.

Mountain Valley initially proposed routing the pipeline through Floyd County, where vigorous opposition organized quickly. Later, the route shifted north into Roanoke County. Pipeline executives have repeatedly insisted that the opposition in Floyd County played no role in the change.

The current route would take the pipeline through the Virginia counties of Giles, Montgomery, Roanoke and Franklin before reaching the Transco pipeline in Pittsylvania County.

But Mountain Valley officials recently acknowledged that they are considering alternative routes.

On Monday, Clay Goodman, county administrator for Craig County, confirmed that Maurice Royster, EQT’s manager of government relations, met with him Feb. 5 and “advised that Craig County was being considered as a ‘speculative’ alternative route for the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline.”

Goodman said Royster “provided no specifics.”

Thursday’s gathering in Floyd included pipeline opponents from Montgomery, Roanoke, Floyd, Franklin and Pittsylvania counties.

Mark Clemmons, a native of Floyd County, traveled to the rally from his home in Henry County.

“I go anywhere where people are fighting for the environment,” Clemmons said.

Pipeline opponents contend the excavation for and operation of the pipeline could threaten wells and springs, affect property values, create a safety hazard and have a host of other negative impacts.

In turn, proponents say natural gas pipelines have a good safety record and insist they can be built and engineered to operate without problems in mountainous terrain and landscapes that include such karst features as caves and sinkholes.

Speakers at Thursday’s rally included Mark Laity-Snyder, a founding member of Preserve Franklin County. He noted that an early route of the pipeline would have taken it near his family’s home in Franklin County.

“The route has moved, but now our neighbors are in the route and the route is not finalized,” Laity-Snyder said, noting that a fresh revision could impact property owners who are currently are in the clear.

Jenny Chapman of Preserve Bent Mountain emphasized that people opposed to the pipeline must ensure their voices are heard.

“That corporations should be allowed to dictate what will happen to the property and rights of private citizens is unconscionable,” Chapman said.

Mountain Valley Pipeline is in the early stages of seeking approval of the project from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which must conclude that the pipeline offers enough of a public benefit to justify its construction and inevitable environmental impacts before work can proceed. Mountain Valley hopes to submit its application to FERC in October.

If FERC approves the project, Mountain Valley would have access to eminent domain to buy easements across private property if negotiations with a property owner failed to yield a mutually acceptable price.

The company has been contacting property owners, seeking permission to survey their property for possible routes. A controversial Virginia law allows natural gas companies to survey private property without an owner’s permission as long as the companies provide the mandated notice.

Mountain Valley is seeking a permit from the U.S. Forest Service to survey and study sections of the Jefferson National Forest in both West Virginia and Virginia. The Forest Service set Friday as a deadline for related public comment. A host of environmental and conservation groups have asked the Forest Service to deny the permit.

On Thursday, Josie Rising, 5, joined her mother, Erica Joy Rising, and other demonstrators who marched in Floyd. Josie’s poster, which she created, read “No Pipeline in My Lifetime.”

Mountain Valley hopes to begin pipeline construction in late 2016 and have the line in service by the fourth quarter of 2018.

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