By Jeff Walker
Walker lives in Floyd County
Business reporters from The Roanoke Times or other media might give greater consideration to the public’s concern and need for coverage of pipeline routing, construction and operation proposals. Landowners and localities whose property is threatened with condemnation are entitled to the objective analysis of economic benefit, compensation for taking and use of property, including protection of resources, or mitigation planning against unintended or inevitable damage.
In the event a route is proposed, an objective Federal Environmental Impact Statement will be requested by communities along the route. An EIS requires that prospective impacts be understood and disclosed in advance. The EIS reports on the purpose, affected environment and range of alternatives, and analyzes the impacts of each of the alternative solutions.
It also determines whether there are insurmountable impacts to threatened or endangered species, air and water quality, historic and cultural sites, and reports on social and economic impacts to local communities. And finally, the issues are laid bare with a cost analysis.
There is no history of a pipeline of the Mountain Valley’s capacity crossing the full width of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Evaluation must be predicated upon the consortium’s retention of a reputable and objective firm to report upon the engineering challenges, risks and attributes of an easement route. Despite FERC’s 2002 approval of Dominion’s Greenbriar proposal, contractual obligations were not sufficient to support construction. Ironically, FERC heard criticism of that market analysis prior to rendering approval.
An EIS should be subject to a period of review, rebuttal or comment by the public, who are entitled to consider information and access a reliable process of arbitration to settle any conflicting claims.
Citizens have more questions than answers: How are easements valued? Does compensation to working lands accrue over the short or long term? Do pipelines pay tolls on product conveyed across private property? Do localities tax pipeline infrastructure, product, real estate, personal or business property? May the commonwealth tax revenue of an out-of-state joint venture or holding company? Who pays local taxes for land under easement? Who is liable for damages caused by construction or accident? Are pipeline owners or contractors required to post bond or other commitments to enforce contract provisions?
The General Assembly enacted legislation in 2004 granting rights of entry onto private land to utilities with certain requirements. However, the voters endorsed a state constitutional amendment in 2012 changing the eminent domain process to provide landowners protection from private takings. In light of these powers, does the State Corporation Commission have a voice, or is this solely a federal process?
FERC does not require a pipeline to propose local service, nor is this aspect sufficient to warrant a finding that the pipeline is in the public interest.
Local distribution is not well understood; is this a profit-driven investment? Is there a break-even analysis? In the case of distribution taps serving Carroll or Pulaski County, were public funds granted or loaned to offset capital costs?
Floyd County’s population does not have natural gas service, and while some suggest gas might serve an industrial or commercial customer, the cost of developing the tap is rumored to be greater than a public or private utility could amortize on economic merit. The entire population does rely upon well water; is there any comparison with economics of public water distribution?
The public would be well served by research and reporting of conflicting interests, data and statements.
That is the American way: State your business, present your offer and establish that you are diligent and are entitled to develop your interests without damaging others.
We are counting on the media to provide substantial, informed and accurate reporting on these important issues.