Judge concludes proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline does not benefit the people of West Virginia as required by state law
By Michael M. Barrick
UNION, W.Va. – This village barely more than a block long is customarily quiet and peaceful, serving as the seat of government for Monroe County, which is framed by the Greenbrier River and the high peaks that form the boundary between Virginia and West Virginia in the Jefferson National Forest. As such, it is a mixture of breathtaking valley farms, soaring mountains and historic structures.
For months, though, it has been the scene of turmoil as local citizens have been battling with companies seeking approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to build the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP). The 42-inch diameter MVP would be approximately 330 miles long, running from North Central West Virginia and through Monroe County into south-central Virginia.
At issue is whether or not West Virginia’s eminent domain law allows MVP to access private property to survey prospective routes prior to FERC rendering a decision. MVP argued so; local residents said otherwise.
Monroe County Circuit Judge Robert Irons concurred with the citizens here on Aug. 5.
After a morning trial, Irons ruled that MVP had not demonstrated that the proposed pipeline provided sufficient public use for the people of West Virginia, as required by West Virginia eminent domain law. Irons issued a preliminary injunction sought by Bryan and Doris McCurdy of Greenville, who were represented pro bono by lawyers from Appalachian Mountain Advocates.
Natalie Cox, the Corporate Director of Communications for EQT, a company seeking approval to build the pipeline, said, “While we respect the Court’s bench ruling, we will review the written order once it is received and consider out options going forward.”
Nevertheless, Irons’ ruling was applauded by two environmental scientists and a Monroe County resident that have visited northern West Virginia – where construction of the Stonewall Gas Gathering pipeline is underway and fracking is widespread. After visiting the Marcellus Shale fields of northern West Virginia, the three have been warning their communities about the human health risks and ecological destruction that accompanies the gas companies’ extractive processes.
Laurie Ardison, who has been active in grassroots efforts in Monroe County, said, “I believe it is time for citizens’ rights to emerge again. This ruling is absolutely appropriate. Property owners should never have to live in fear of uncontrolled, unfettered, unethical gas industry intentions.”
Dale McCutheon served as a county sanitarian in seven West Virginia counties at different intervals. He is a registered sanitarian with a Master’s in Environmental Science. He has conducted surface and ground water studies for federal, state, and county governmental agencies as well as local organizations.
A resident of Union, he said, “Water-related issues are of special concern to me. Of particular concern to Monroe County residents is the potential impact to the county’s water resources. The proposed routing of the pipeline through areas of steep terrain and karst topography – which provides the majority of the county water supplies, both public and private – threatens the most precious and essential resource. Monroe County does not, as many adjacent counties do, have a river to provide a continuing water source, so the loss of water resources due to an impact of a pipeline would have an unalterable effect on the health and well-being … of the residents.”
Autumn Bryson is an environmental scientist who recently concluded a Sediment and Erosion Control Assessment of the Stonewall Gas Gathering construction activities in northern West Virginia (soon to be published on the Appalachian Chronicle). She works out of neighboring Greenbrier County. She remarked, “As an environmental scientist, I am very concerned that these companies want to be above the law when it comes to our land and resources. We need more judges and people in leadership roles to have the courage to stand up to the oil and gas industries and let the corporate employees know that they need to abide by the laws like every other responsible human being.”
McCutheon, whose ancestry goes back six generations to the original settlement of the area in the late 1700s, and who has spent his professional life working on environmental and health concerns, pointed out, “Monroe County has, heretofore, primarily due to the lack of coal, oil and gas reserves, not been subject to the degradation that has taken place in much of the state as a result of exposure to the activities of the extractive industries.”
He continued, “Its mountains are unscathed, its streams are still pure and free-flowing and its farm fields remain verdant and green. The people of Monroe are strong-willed, independent folks who highly value their rights to privacy and full enjoyment of their properties, and strongly resist efforts by anyone, including government or private entities, to encumber or diminish those rights.”
Ardison concurred, saying, “This is why we have a constitution in the first place. I urge anyone reading this to speak up and claim their rights.” She concluded, “We’re strong and proud people in this state. Let’s work together to keep it wild and wonderful.”
© The Appalachian Preservation Project, 2015. The Appalachian Chronicle is a publication of the Appalachian Preservation Project. If you find this writing of value, we hope that you will consider support our independent work by becoming a member of the Appalachian Preservation Project. You can learn more here. By doing so, you will be supporting not only this website, but also our other outreaches, programs and partnerships.
We are on Facebook
On Twitter: @appchronicle