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Eastern Panhandle pipeline clears PSC hurdle

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Last Thursday the Berkeley County Council decided during its meeting to send a letter supporting the proposed Mountaineer Gas pipeline — which would span across the Eastern Panhandle — but that letter was never able to be sent.

Norwood Bentley, legal counsel for the county, said the council decided not to send the letter after hearing the permit for the pipeline had been approved by the Public Service Commission in West Virginia the very same day.

“The council decided it didn’t make any sense to send a letter since the parties reached an agreement to settle the litigation,” Bentley said.

The 27-mile, $45 million pipeline is planned to run from Berkeley Springs to the northern part of Martinsburg. Two weeks ago Abigail Benjamin, counsel for Blue Heron Environmental Network, expressed her environmental concerns to the county council.

According to Benjamin, she and other environmental advocates are concerned about the installment of the pipeline because of the Karst geology within the region. She said it is a landscape feature that is rather unique to Berkeley County and is a highly dissolvable limestone rock feature that reacts quickly and strongly with groundwater. Benjamin said the quickly dissolvable rock feature will allow for pollution to flow through the ground at a much higher rate than usual.

Benjamin asked the council to send a “letter of caution” to PSC before Dec. 2, knowing it was the deadline for approval or denial by PSC. She said she received word of the pipeline’s approval Thursday evening.

“At 5:15 p.m. Thursday, we received notice that the Public Service Commission in West Virginia had accepted the Joint Settlement Agreement. This means Mountaineer Gas has a permit for ‘Stage 1’ — the part of the pipeline in Morgan and Berkeley Counties. There will be additional environmental permit view by different agencies such as the WV Department of Environmental Protection. Blue Heron Environmental Network will not be ‘appealing’ the PSC’s final decision which is formally called filing a ‘Request for Reconsideration,’” Benjamin said.

Benjamin said she hopes the additional agencies will take the county’s lanscape into consideration.

“Moving forward we hope that the other government agencies take a look at the unique geology of our location,” Benjamin said.

Doug Copenhaver, Berkeley County Council president, said the pipeline is needed and he has faith it will be installed safely, stating there hasn’t been any trouble in the past with the existing line, to his knowledge.

“We are pleased PSC has taken the next step moving forward with the drastically needed gas pipeline in order to supply Morgan and Berkeley counties with the much needed natural gas,”Copenhaver said.

Staff writer Katiann Marshall can be reached at 304-263-8931, ext. 182, or on Twitter @kmarshallJN.

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