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Eastern Panhandle residents mixed on proposed Mountaineer Gas pipeline


The Shepherdstown Chronicle

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. — Between “right of eminent domain,” environmental impact concerns and potential economic benefits, it’s no wonder the 3.4 mile Mountaineer Gas pipeline has been a hot button issue in the community for some time.

The project will reach maximum exposure in Shepherdstown on Tuesday as the Town Council convenes to hear the concerns and approvals from citizens regarding the pipeline.

While the pipeline would not connect directly to Shepherdstown, many opponents say its pathway – which would stretch from Washington County, Maryland, traveling under the Potomac River before ending in Morgan County – would have direct impact on the town and its residents.

“There are many downfalls (to the pipeline). The environmental aspect and bullying of citizens who own areas of land the pipeline wants to come through are the biggest concerns,” said Jessie Ward, Women’s March Outreach Captain for Shepherdstown, and a concerned citizen. “The natural gas would come from fracking in Pennsylvania, which is dirty and causes destruction. Also, pipelines leak – it’s inevitable – it is just a matter of when.”

According to Ward, representatives from Mountaineer Gas have been visiting landowners to coerce them into selling their land rights. Much of this negativity toward Mountaineer Gas culminated earlier this month when the company took Dean and Patricia Kesecker, of Morgan County, to court where “right of eminent domain” was used to rule in favor of Mountaineer Gas.

While representatives from Mountaineer Gas claim that the pipeline will affect less than 10 acres of the Kesecker family’s 500-acre property, opponents saw the ruling as a strike against the community.

“They took our friends’ land. The Keseckers were taken to court for refusing to sign an easement to the gas company. The judge ruled against them. It was disappointing to see,” said Tracy Cannon, of advocacy group Eastern Panhandle Protectors, who have been working to stop the pipeline. “There are many we’ve talked with in the course of canvassing who felt they were bullied into giving up their land.”

According to Cannon, the pipeline poses more than just environmental hazards. She claims the building and operation of the pipeline could potentially put lives at risk.

“The pipeline in Hedgesville is within a quarter mile from the four schools there. If there were some sort of incident, there would be a high level loss of life. It is what is called a ‘high consequence zone,'” Cannon said. “If there was an explosion, many lives would be lost.”

While much of Cannon’s work has been looking at the impact on Berkeley and Morgan counties, she said Jefferson County and Shepherdstown would be placed at risk as well.

“The line crosses under the Potomac (River) and a number of streams in our area where something damaging could happen. A rupture in the line would foul the water. It would endanger people’s water supply – stretching even into Washington, D.C.,” Cannon said.

Cannon went on to speak of the other potential environmental implications of natural gas, specifically in the use of fracking – a method of injecting liquid at high pressure into rocks in order to force open existing fissures and extract gas.

“Fracking is a polluting source of energy and is done at the expense of producing toxic waste that needs disposed. That’s an ill to the gas industry,” Cannon added.

While the pipeline has its many opponents, there are just as many on the other side of the issue who see great economic benefit in building the pipeline through the area.

“We have been working on this natural gas issue for 20-plus years. It has always been an issue with luring employers into Jefferson County. Dozens have declined when they learn we don’t have natural gas,” said Jefferson County Development Authority President Eric Lewis. “The key point is, this ‘distribution line’ is low pressure, it isn’t a pipeline like Dakota Access or other large transmission lines. I don’t foresee any negatives.”

According to Lewis, the main opposition to the line is coming from misinformation.

“People oppose because they are misinformed by others who know better. Those people have an agenda to be against anything that isn’t solar or wind. They buy into what they hear without getting the facts, and then the misinformation perpetuates,” Lewis said. “It’s like a bad game of ‘telephone.’ They see things like Dakota Access on the news and think this is the same thing, when it is absolutely not. There are some pipelines for which it is reasonable to be opposed – this isn’t one of them.”

Others in the community echo Lewis’ sentiments and hope to see the line come to fruition.

“(The line) is needed. It will create jobs and lower energy costs,” said Shepherdstown resident John Kilroy. “Is there something wrong with a company making a profit? That seems like a way to create jobs, and if it saves us money, then it seems everybody wins.”

While the two sides may differ on this specific project, both seem to agree that moving away from fossil fuels as an energy source is an inevitability.

“We definitely need to be considering and exploring every type of energy solution. Eventually we will surely be moving away from all of the fossil fuels, but that will be a long process,” Lewis said. “So, why not give the residents and businesses of our county access to the cleanest, cheapest fossil fuel available? Former Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin was supportive of this effort. Without his vision, we would not be so close to this goal we have had for 20 years.”

“Why aren’t we using solar and wind energy instead,” Cannon asked. “Coal to gas isn’t that good of a trade-off to natural gas from fracking.”

Irrespective of what side of the issue residents are on, all want to send a clear message to the Town Council on Tuesday.

Whether it is in favor of the line…

“I hope the town council recognizes the vast benefits that natural gas (will bring) to Jefferson County, and (eventually) Shepherdstown. The right thing to do is to formally endorse the project. Folks need to trust their neighbors who have worked so hard on this for so long,” Lewis said. “They need to consider the fact that someone like me will have absolutely zero personal direct financial benefit, but I am 100 percent convinced there are incredible benefits, and zero downside.”

Or standing in opposition of it…

“There is no real reason to bring the pipeline here. The Eastern Panhandle does not need more energy. It is an unneeded risk,” Ward said.

Many voices will need to be heard by the Town Council to fully flush out and decide on the endorsement of the project. Only time will tell whether or not Mountaineer Gas’s pipeline will be a boon or hindrance to Jefferson, Berkeley and Morgan counties – and beyond.

The Corporation of Shepherdstown Town Council will field questions, comments and concerns from residents on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at the Historic Entler Hotel, at the intersection of Princess and German streets, in downtown Shepherdstown.

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