2017-08-09 / Front Page

Pipeline opponents take case to county officials

by Kate Shunney

For half an hour during the August 2 Morgan County Commission meeting, residents and environmental activists stated their case against a plan by Mountaineer Gas to bury a 23-mile natural gas line through properties in northeastern Morgan County. More than 40 people filled the commission meeting room for the agenda item.

Tracy Cannon of the Eastern Panhandle Protectors asked county resident Patricia Kesecker to talk about plans to bring a natural gas line across her family’s farm.

Kesecker referenced a recent decision by Circuit Court Judge Laura Faircloth to allow Mountaineer Gas access to the farm after negotiations for a right-of-way fell apart.

Kesecker said the eminent domain decision “robbed” the family of a portion of their land.

Kesecker said Commissioner Bob Ford offered to meet with her family and Mountaineer Gas, but insisted that no reporters be allowed to attend.

“We won’t meet behind closed doors,” she said.

Kesecker said family members have decided not to appeal Judge Faircloth’s decision, feeling it would “most likely not be successful.”

Kesecker criticized elected officials at the state and local level, saying, “It’s definitely time to change the eminent domain culture” of the state.

“The Keseckers will most likely not be the last family sued,” she said of the project.

Sharon Kerns-Smith said she doesn’t trust Mountaineer Gas, based on her interactions with land agents. Kerns- Smith said the gas company eventually moved the gas line route around her family’s property.

She said she was shown inaccurate route maps and given “inconsistent information” about the line, the construction zone, their liability and whether large equipment could drive over a finished gas line.

Kerns-Smith told county officials that Mountaineer representatives advised them not to seek legal counsel in easement negotiations or Mountaineer would stop dealing with them.

One map Kerns-Smith got from land agents showed an entire field designated as a work site for Mountaineer to keep equipment and supplies during construction. She said the company never informed her of their plans to use the field and didn’t offer her compensation for its use.

“My experience with Mountaineer is not unique. Some are more negative than mine,” she said.

Kerns-Smith suggested commissioners find out who holds legal liability on property crossed by a gas line and get a final map showing the line route. County officials should find out if future lines would be added within Mountaineer easements, what other substances the company could run along the gas route, where worksites are planned and what kind of impact construction will have on local roads.

Brent Walls of the Upper Potomac River Keepers said karst geology in the Eastern Panhandle creates risks during natural gas line construction. Karst geology means rocks underground are porous, with caves and drainage passages.

Commissioner Ken Reed pressed Walls on whether Morgan County has karst geology, and if the gas company would be doing surveys to test local geology.

Walls said there is karst geology near the Potomac River.

“We will stop the Trans Canada pipeline across the Potomac,” Walls said.

That line would bring a natural gas supply from Fulton County, Pa. to Morgan County, if approved.

He rejected the idea that natural gas would be a benefit to local residents.

“Most residents will not be able to afford to hook onto the gas line,” Walls said.

David Lillard of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition said other pipeline problems in the state point to risks of environmental damage in Morgan County during pipeline construction.

He cited diesel fuel spills at construction sites, drill mud releases into wetlands and problems with storm water control at construction sites.

“You can’t count on enforcement,” Lillard said. “Once violations are detected, the damage is already done.”

He urged county officials to get information about the proposed project from experts.

Commission President Joel Tuttle said he has pressed Mountaineer Gas for specific answers to landowner questions.

“I’ve tried to get them to put it in writing,” Tuttle said. He said he had made a list of questions he will address in another letter to gas company officials. He said landowners deserve answers.

“We will have a better picture when Governor Hogan makes his decision,” Tuttle said. There are reports that Maryland governor Larry Hogan could consider withholding state permits to let the TransCanada gas line cross the Potomac River.

If that’s the case, Mountaineer Gas would have to seek another source of natural gas for the Eastern Panhandle expansion line.

Commissioner Bob Ford told Kesecker that he wanted her family to “get the best deal” in negotiating with Mountaineer Gas land agents. He confirmed he wouldn’t meet with her and gas company officials unless the media was not invited.

“These spectacles don’t accomplish anything,” he said. “These people aren’t going to tell you that – they live in a fantasyland. You already wasted money on lawyers.”

Walls countered Ford, saying, “It’s this kind of ‘spectacle’ that banned fracking in the state of Maryland.”

During a later question period, resident Tim Newton said he was disappointed that commissioners were “supporting a land grab for a private company.” He urged county officials to put the project on the ballot before voters, saying, “the majority of people don’t support this pipeline.”

Ford disagreed, asking if Newton had any support for that assertion.

“Here was an example of 50 people turning out to your front door to tell you,” said Newton.

“Those are the same 50 people who are against everything,” Ford said.

Return to top

Commissioner Ford insulted

Commissioner Ford insulted anyone who has ever questioned authority - a cornerstone of democracy last time I checked. He also told us we should let the EPA and the WVDEP do their job - and we've seen how well that works (poisoned drinking water, landslides....) And he's totally wrong about "the same 50 people who are against everything." In fact, our Eastern Panhandle Protectors page represents people from a wide political range, some of whom have never protested anything in their lives. Also witness the discussions on the Voices of Morgan County. THere are conservatives and "earth cookies" alike(their phrase, not mine) represented against the pipeline for different reasons, but against it just the same. And those of us in the courthouse were from many walks of life, from good farming families like the Keseckers to people like me that are concerned about the state of our state we're leaving our children (those of whom haven't already left this sacrifice zone of a state, that is). His arrogance speaks volumes about his lack of compassion and connection with the people of his county.

Bob Ford seems to have

Bob Ford seems to have thrown his support to Mountaineer and actively opposed to the people he is suppose to represent . . otherwise he is a good man .