Tag Archives: Eminent Domain

Jury in Pennsylvania Fracking Case Sees Clear Value in Lives and Property

Families who refused to settle out of court awarded $4.2 million for the harm caused to their land and lives from fracking

By S. Tom Bond

DIMOCK, Pa. – The controversy over the environmental impact of fracking upon the people and land of Appalachia – especially in the shale fields of Western Pennsylvania and Northern West Virginia – recently took a stunning turn here earlier this month when a jury agreed with two families and awarded them $4.2 million in their lawsuit against Texas-based Cabot Oil & Gas. See the article about the settlement on the FrackCheckWV website.

No eminent domain for corporate gain.”

Scott Ely and his wife, Monica Marta-Ely, and Ray and Victoria Hubert of Dimock refused to settle for mediation of their nuisance suit, which was filed in 2009. In doing so, they have done a great thing for all of us. They took the risk of going to court and refused the minimal value offered by the corporation, despite the fact that many of their neighbors settled years ago. This showed publically how the neighborhood valued their property, both its singular and personal value.

This decision shows that the environmental impact of fracking is inextricably linked to fundamental issues such as private property rights and values. The value of property (or friends or anything you like) is not the same as a corporation values it. What a jury of peers does is to value property according to community values – the value as the neighbors understand it, not how the aggressor sees it!

Fracking OVEC

Fracking opponents express their concerns about the extraction process. Photo courtesy of the Ohio Valley Environmental Council.

This settlement raises some interesting questions and metaphors. Do you think my wife isn’t worth more to me than she would be worth on the open market? She is 79, grey and somewhat bent, but we get along. I don’t want to adapt to another, and I’d like to keep her around. It’s the same with my farm – I’ve been here for 52 years. I know about its past back to the ones who got the land grants, I know what it can do, and I remember a lifetime of what has gone on here. I have heirs who are interested in working it. Of course it is worth more to me than to a stranger.

What if someone comes along and takes it for his profit? Rest assured, he makes his effort for profit, not for the public good, otherwise it would be cheaper for the public equal to the amount of his profit. Corporations are notorious for their single value outlook, one of the huge ways they are not “persons.” Indeed, their hypocrisy knows no bound. Rex Tillerson, the chairman, president, and CEO of ExxonMobile Corporation and several of his neighbors, include former House Majority Leader Dick Armey – both strong supporters of fracking – sued an energy company in Texas to stop the construction of a water tower close to their property. In their lawsuit, Tillerson, Armey and others argued that the tower – which, if completed, will contain water to be sold to fracking companies – will diminish their property values and cause “discomfort and annoyances to persons.” See here.

Tillerson has learned what those of us living in the fracking fields have known for a decade – almost all personal property is worth more because people don’t use it just for profit. If the compensation is the single value of “market worth,” people get cheated.

There is an element of class warfare in fracking. Few people who aspire to become rich by investment or astronomically high executive salaries are genuinely democratic (small d, of course). Their values and ours don’t match. Indeed, Laura Legere of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that Cabot’s attorney Jeremy Mercer described the efforts by the attorney for the Ely and Hubert families as an effort “to throw skunks into the jury box.” This is, indeed, the language of class warfare.

What corporation would be interested in anything but making money? Should enjoying life, appreciating the people around you and preserving the good world around us be considered worthwhile values? Those of us who are stewards of the land entrusted to us believe so.

The court victory by the Elys and Howards should embolden us to preserve and protect the rights that go with our private property, and say together, “No eminent domain for corporate gain.”

© S. Tom Bond, 2016. Bond is a retired chemistry professor and farmer in Lewis County, W.Va.

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Lewis County Resident Issues a Plea: Wake up West Virginia

As West Virginia legislature prepares to adjourn, resident warns of dangers to property rights

By John Cobb

There are several currently proposed bills in the West Virginia Legislature now that could seriously hurt our rights as property owners:

Senate bill 508 would destroy a more than 200-year-old law that allows citizens the right to file “Nuisance Suits” against neighbors or companies who harm their property values or their right to the pursuit of happiness on their property. This bill is currently in the House Judiciary committee. While it is not expected to pass, it is essential to keep pressure on House members.

Would Senate Bill 596 would allow gas and pipeline companies to come onto private property to survey your land for pipelines which may not even be in the public interest. This is actually legalizing trespassing. Though dead for now after a defeat in the Senate, voters should be aware of who supported this as they prepare to vote this year.

Senate bill 601 would forces West Virginia Landfill authorities to take drill cuttings from Marcellus Wells which may include contaminated waste and radioactive materials that could pose risks to our aquifers and water supplies. Good water is every West Virginian’s God-given right. It is presently under consideration in the House.

None of these bills should be amended!  They are wrong in any possible form.

None of these Senate Bills should come to the full Legislative floor for a vote.

All these Bills should be killed/stopped – NOW!

These Senate Bills seem to be totally for the benefit of the Marcellus Drilling and Pipeline companies and are putting our property rights, values, lives and peace of mind at risk.  The out-of-state companies will be gone in ten years, but many of our property rights could be gone forever.  It’s time to act to get involved!

Our Senators will not be representing “the majority” of their constituents if they sponsor or support or vote for these Senate bills!

Please watch closely how your elected representatives vote in this session of the Legislature. It is important that they vote for our property rights.

It just does not seem to stop.   Governor Tomblin asked the West Virginia Senate to Pass Senate bill 419. This bill would eliminate some of the revenue derived from the state severance tax on oil and gas extraction by 4.7 cents per thousand cubic feet of natural gas (along with a fee on coal extraction).

Call me thunderstruck, but this tax revenue cut comes at a time when our state has a shortfall of over $350 million in the budget.

Yes, the fee was originally to be used to pay down the state’s old workers’ compensation debts and Tomblin had promised that once the debt was paid, the fee would be lifted.

Guess what. Our state senators have unanimously passed Senate bill 419 and it is now awaiting the Governor’s signature. If signed, we will lose this potential tax revenue source that could help us fix our state’s budget.  So I ask you, “Who is working to fix our budget”?

Finally, we need to kill any bill that supports forced pooling.

Two such bill are SB646 and HB 4639 which support forced pooling. These bills will allow drilling under a surface owner’s property without their consent and without benefit to the surface owner. These are the worst forced pooling bills ever. Last year the legislature tried to pass a forced pooling bill and it failed because it is an unfair concept and an unfair law.

I thought this was the year that our infrastructure was to have been top priority.  What happened?

Our roads and bridges need repair and improvement. We need new roads. We still need to get good water to the thousands of folks who are on spring or well water. Yes, many families are still in need of reliable city water. So many people today in our state are still living as third world citizens.

So ask your representative why they are working so hard on taking away more of our rights.

There has never been a more important time to watch what is going on in Charleston!

There is still time to contact your elected officials. So take action now to protect your property rights.

These bills are taking away people’s rights and it is unfair to take away the legal system from ordinary citizens.

You can check a bill’s status at:  http://www.legis.state.wv.us/  and you can also find your legislator by clicking on Senate or Delegate and then Member to get the phone number or email address to contact your representative.

You can make a positive impact. Take the time to protect your property rights now.

The West Virginia Legislature is scheduled to adjourn on Saturday.

© John Cobb, 2016. Mr. Cobb writes from his farm in Ireland, W.Va.

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West Virginia’s Top Story in 2015: People and Land under Assault

Public health, environment and property rights under siege from crony capitalism; people respond vigorously, despite odds

 By Michael M. Barrick

BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. – While the fossil fuel extraction industry has dominated West Virginia’s political system, economy and communities since it became a state in 1863, the assault upon public health, the environment and property rights in 2015 by corporations and the Mountain State’s legislature was historic. Not since United States senators were appointed by legislatures, in the days when corporate robber barons owned the coal fields, the railroads and the politicians, and efforts to unionize coal miners were met with government-sanctioned violence, has there been such a blitzkrieg of shenanigans and skullduggery unleashed upon the state’s citizens.

Yet, the people have responded energetically. Easily outgunned by corporations, outspent by PACs, and surrounded by apathetic neighbors possessing a sense of inevitability that the energy industry will have its way in West Virginia, many citizens and groups have fought the attack vigorously and widely. The events of 2015 affecting the ecology of West Virginia is about far more than policy, it is about people – about those people making a difference, whether for well or ill.

While corporate interests and most of the state’s mainstream media promote a continued reliance upon what is essentially a bust-and-boom economy, more and more voices standing in opposition to the status quo are being heard. With solid evidence of harm to public health, damage to the environment and abuse of eminent domain from the industry – particularly through fracking and mountaintop removal – more people are joining forces to hold government, industry and even the church accountable.

These stories are not necessarily listed in chronological order and are not offered as a ranking of importance. Instead, it is an attempt to assess the whole year much as one would look at a quilt after it has been completed.

The top stories                                                    

  • The “People’s Capitol” no more
  • Influence of religion a mix of the hopeful and disturbing
  • Mediocrity at West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection
  • Eminent domain abuse
  • Public health threats
  • Environmental degradation
  • The people respond
  • The Don Blankenship trial
  • Poor and biased press coverage

 

The “People’s Capitol” no more

The gold-domed state capitol along the Kanawha River in Charleston is known as “The People’s Capitol” because of its openness to the people. While that is changing physically this year as security officials add metal detectors and other security steps, the event that really denied the people access to their government was the takeover of the legislature by the Republican Party. Not that the GOP has a patent on arrogance. The Democrats had grown entirely too comfortable after more than 80 years of control. Their arrogance was on display for all to see. All one had to do was visit the offices of the legislators before the GOP takeover. The Democrats had the largest offices and those in special authority – such as the speaker – had not only their titles but names affixed to the doors. As I walked through the capitol on a snowy February day in 2014 just a few weeks after the Elk River spill, I was pleased with how many legislators made themselves accessible; more than a few seemed genuinely interested in serving the people. However, the display of arrogance on the office doors by the party’s leadership was disturbing. It was clear proof that the lure of power had seduced them to promote themselves, not serve the people.

So, in a sense, the Democrats got what they deserved in November 2014. Unfortunately, beginning in January 2015, so did the people of West Virginia. Why people vote against their own interests is beyond my comprehension. For instance, coal miners voted for the very people who protect men like Massey Energy’s Donald Blankenship (more about him later) and are doing all they can to destroy the United Mine Workers (UMW).

Additionally, the GOP is pushing for “Forced Pooling” legislation that would rob landowners of their most basic rights. That issue died in the legislature on a tie vote in committee last year and is a legislative priority for the GOP this year when the West Virginia legislature convenes on Jan. 13. Forced pooling allows the gas industry to force landowners to allow gas companies to access the gas under their land even if the landowner doesn’t agree to it so long as a certain percentage of their neighbors have agreed to sell. And, despite the devastation done by the Elk River spill in 2014, the Republican-led legislature rolled back vital provisions of the West Virginia Storage Tank Law. This led to weakened oversite, restrictions on public access to hazardous chemical information, and loopholes which severely undermine the stated intent of the law. (Read the full story here).

 

Influence of religion a mix of the hopeful and disturbing

In West Virginia, approximately three out of four people identify themselves as Protestant; only seven percent are Catholic. As with political parties, these two major Christian sects hold quite disparate views on ecological issues; indeed, within each denomination, congregation and parish, one can find division about what the faith teaches regarding environmental stewardship.

Evangelicals and fundamentalists generally hold a “dominion” theory of stewardship. It is not only reflected in sermons, but is referenced by energy industry officials as justification for their attacks upon public health and the environment. Indeed, a leading energy industry executive shared that view here in Bridgeport in March. Executive Director Corky DeMarco of the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association said, “God didn’t want us to be farmers, or this place would look like Kansas. God put us here in these mountains that are 450 million years old with the best coal in the world and the most natural gas in the world. And we have a responsibility, and I think companies like Dominion and others have seized on the opportunities that these mountains have provided and will continue to do this.” (Read the full story here).

Yet, Allen Johnson of Dunmore, who leads the evangelical organization Christians for the Mountains, took several other evangelicals and reporters to Kayford Mountain, West Virginia’s most infamous mountaintop removal site. As a result of this effort, national publications noted that some evangelicals are serious about creation care. (You can read articles here and here). Another, not available online, was published by the conservative Christian World magazine based in Asheville, N.C. Explaining the outreach, Johnson said, “It’s a lot easier to preach to the choir, so to speak, than to step across the divide, but that is what is needed in our polarized culture – build trust, tell stories, show, listen, find common ground somewhere.”

Catholics, however, have become accustomed to their clergy – in particular the bishop – to be a prophetic voice for the land and its people. Indeed, the West Virginia-based Catholic Committee of Appalachia (CCA) has published two pastoral letters by the Catholic bishops of Appalachia – “This Land is Home to Me” in 1975 and “At Home in the Web of Life” in 1995. Both of these letters were signed by the Roman Catholic bishops of the region. So, for the last 40 years, the Catholic laity has become accustomed to its leaders standing up for the poor. Not in 2015 though. Instead, the CCA felt compelled to challenge West Virginia Bishop Michael Bransfield – as well as other Appalachian Catholic bishops – for not supporting the pope strongly enough when the Vatican released the pope’s ecological encyclical in the spring. (Read more here and here).

Indeed, in December, the CCA published what it characterized as a people’s pastoral. It explained, “For this third letter, called a ‘People’s Pastoral,’ the planning team did not seek the signatures of the region’s bishops, but rather sought to lift up the authority of the people, their stories, and earth itself as an expression of the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching of the ‘preferential option for the poor.’” (Read more here).

In short, while the church leadership has abandoned its prophetic voice in support of the people they are called to serve, the people in the parishes and congregations are filling the void. In addition to the CCA pastoral, several other examples demonstrate this.

In April, during the week of Earth Day, North Carolina-based St. Luke’s United Methodist Church joined with the West Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club and West Virginia Interfaith Power & Light to hold a two-day conference at the Catholic-owned St. John’s XXIII Pastoral Center in Charleston. The conference included people from various faith traditions, scientists, educators, preservationists, educators, artists and others. The theme of the conference, “Preserving Sacred Appalachia,” was organized out of a faith-based view of environmental stewardship, but was intentionally designed to welcome people from all walks of faith and life. (Read more here).

That same week, Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church was a first-place winner of Interfaith Power & Light’s annual Cool Congregations Challenge. The church earned its award for being the top renewable role model in the nation for, among other reasons, having the largest community-supported solar system in West Virginia. (Read more here).

In August, at its annual gathering, the West Virginia Sierra Club chapter considered how it, as a secular group, could apply the ecological encyclical by Pope Francis to its preservation efforts in West Virginia. That gathering led to the writing of this article.

 

Mediocrity at West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection

While the church, as an institution, was offering mixed messages on environmental stewardship, the state’s primary agency charged with protecting the environment for the people of West Virginia was sending a clear message – it is, at best, mediocre. In fact, its acronym – DEP – is referred to sarcastically as the “Department of Everything Permitted” by public health experts and environmentalists. In 2015, it was unresponsive to citizens expressing concerns about the health impacts of mountaintop removal. (Read more here), and its leader was unprepared for and even hostile to questions about the most basic of safety considerations regarding the impact of the energy extraction industry. (Read more here).

 

Eminent Domain abuse

Among the most egregious attacks upon the people of West Virginia was the misuse of eminent domain by the energy extraction industry. This is not surprising though, as without approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to build the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP), Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) and others in the future to extract gas from the shale fields of northern West Virginia, the industry will not be allowed to use eminent domain to seize the land of private landowners. Without that weapon, the energy industry is facing billions of dollars of losses already invested in what the industry obviously considered a slam dunk.

In March, Pittsburgh-based energy company EQT sent out letters to landowners threatening legal action if they did not allow EQT access to their property for surveys. The company’s lawyers argued that the pipeline would serve the interests of West Virginians, so eminent domain should apply. (Read more here and here). Opponents saw it differently and won in court – for now. (Read more here).

 

Public Health threats

Whatever one’s political outlook, it is generally agreed that a basic function of government is to guard the public’s health. This is part of its mission to “…promote the general Welfare…” as stated in the Preamble of the United States Constitution. Again though, even fulfilling this most basic responsibility of government seems beyond West Virginia’s capability – or willingness.

As already noted above, West Virginia DEP Secretary Randy Huffman out-of-hand rejected the Precautionary Principle as a reasonable, scientific method of protecting the environment and public health. This, despite clear evidence from health experts about the dangers of fracking and mountaintop removal (read here and here). The facts are supported by personal stories of destroyed lives from the extraction industry. (Read more here).

 

Environmental degradation

Those attempting to stop the environmental degradation caused by fracking and its related infrastructure got a good taste of what they will face should the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines receive FERC approval. Because those proposed pipelines would cross state lines, FERC approval is required. However, beginning in the spring and going well into the winter, another pipeline – the Stonewall Gas Gathering (SGG) pipeline – was constructed, traversing only about 56 miles of West Virginia. Hence, as an intrastate pipeline, FERC approval for it was not required. The SGG was built by Stonewall Gas Gathering, LLC, which was incorporated in Delaware on June 4, 2014. SGG is a subsidiary of Momentum (officially M3Midstream), based in Texas and Colorado. The Stonewall Gathering line is part of Momentum’s Appalachian Gathering System (AGS). The SGG connected to the AGS in Harrison County and terminates in Braxton County, where it connects to the Columbia pipeline. It runs also through Doddridge and Lewis counties. It began operation in December, but in the process disrupted the lives of thousands of West Virginians, harassed opponents, and caused significant damage to farmland, streams and roadways.

The West Virginia DEP did issue several Notice of Violations to Precision Pipeline, the company that built the pipeline. However, it did so only after numerous complaints from citizens. (Read more here).

As has already been demonstrated, the extraction industry operates from a position of arrogance – of “dominion.” In the next section are several links to stories about people and groups who learned this hard lesson and immediately began responding. Before reading those accounts though, you might want to refer to the articles, “A Dirty Dozen Reasons to Oppose Fracking” and “Filmmaker Finds Compelling Story in Her own Backyard.”

 

Citizens stand up to crony capitalism

Despite this relentless assault upon public health, the environment and property rights by the unholy alliance between government and business – known otherwise as crony capitalism – no small number of people and groups have organized and coordinated efforts to safeguard their human rights. The outreach has even extended across the states bordering West Virginia, as alliances have been formed with people and groups in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio and Kentucky.

As a result, I was fortunate to meet some incredible people giving completely of themselves and resources during the year. Following are a few examples.

The McClain family, farmers in Doddridge County (about 8,000 residents), though quiet and deferential people, stood their ground against the industry for ruining some of their crops. (Read more here).

Also in Doddridge County, residents joined with folks from neighboring counties to demonstrate their solidarity against the fracking industry. (Read more here).

Earlier in the year, a landowner in the mountains of Randolph County was a one-man army fighting Dominion Resources. He is working to protect some of the most pristine mountain valleys in West Virginia. (Read more here).

Also early in the year, several environmental groups challenged FERC to abide by its charter and deny approval of the pipelines because they would benefit private shareholders, not the people of West Virginia. (Read more here).

In a proactive response to the industry, a Harrison County couple modeled, for the public, their homestead powered by solar panels. (Read more here).

As the year came to a close, dozens of people and groups gathered in central West Virginia to learn more from each other and to coordinate efforts to oppose the fracking industry. (Read more here).

 

The Don Blankenship trial

The year concluded with the conviction of former Massey CEO Don Blankenship on charges brought by federal authorities because of the Upper Big Branch mine disaster that killed 29 coal miners in Raleigh County in April 2010. Sadly, the jury found Blankenship guilty on just one misdemeanor count brought against him – conspiring to willfully violate safety standards. The same jury found him not guilty of securities fraud and making false statements. His lawyers have said he will challenge the verdict. So, in light of the expected appeal and mixed verdict, it would seem the opportunity to send a message that crony capitalism would no longer be allowed to kill West Virginians was missed. Hence, it is an important chapter in this story of West Virginia’s reliance upon the fossil fuel mono-economy. Still, while it was covered by media from the United States and beyond, I consider it less important of a story than the stories above, in particular the response by average citizens to the assault they and their land face from the energy extraction industry.

 

Poor and biased press coverage

These are serious times requiring serious and devoted people. While I generally try not to be snarky about the mainstream media, I must say that I was quite disappointed that West Virginia Public Broadcasting considered a little dustup about pepperoni rolls as one of the top eight stories in West Virginia in 2015. Now, I’ve transported more than my share of pepperoni rolls across state lines. But the debate over fracking – a debate that continues savagely in every corner of the Mountain State – is a far more important story. Yet, this important issue did not even make the list from West Virginia Public Broadcasting, which claims to be committed to “Telling West Virginia’s Story.”

In this instance, it failed miserably.

Meanwhile, in Clarksburg, which is at the epicenter of the fracking industry, the city’s only newspaper – The Exponent-Telegram – has an owner who also owns interests in oil, gas and coal companies. The newspaper, which touts itself as “The Independent Voice of North Central West Virginia,” had not disclosed this conflict of interest to the public, even as it served as a cheerleader for the energy extraction industry. (Read more here and here).

The point is this: The Fourth Estate has become part of the establishment. Just as our three branches of government are intended to serve as a check and balance on the other two branches, so too, since the Revolutionary War era, has the press been counted upon to serve as a fourth check on the three branches of government. Now though, the courage required to honor that legacy is rarely found in a newsroom or TV studio. In short, the modern press, whether for-profit or not, will not challenge government, church and academia beyond the boundaries which might hit them in the pocketbook.

Consequently, it does not report what we truly need to know.

 

Conclusion

So, it’s up to the people. Last year left social justice and environmental activists exhausted, even burned out. Yet, the battle continues. While 2015 was not a good year for the people or environment of West Virginia, 2016 offers hope. It also offers great peril. The extraction industry has unlimited resources – cash, marketing departments and lawyers – that groups fighting for justice simply can’t match. The industry is working 24/7 to assault the people and natural beauty of West Virginia. So activists cannot rest. They are gearing up for a busy year, beginning with the legislative session that convenes next week. They have doggedly fought the industry hard in 2015. However, if they do not get additional manpower this year – an army of volunteers – 2017 will likely be too late to keep West Virginia from becoming an industrial waste zone that is unsuitable for any living thing.

© Michael M. Barrick/Appalachian Chronicle, 2016

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Environmental Scientists, Activist Applaud Mountain Valley Pipeline Ruling

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.

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A Pivotal Moment for West Virginia’s Eminent Domain Law

Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC petitions U.S. Court to access private property for surveys

By Michael M. Barrick

BRDIGEPORT, W.Va. – Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC (MVP), has sued 103 West Virginians that have refused to allow the company to access their land to survey for the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline. The company is seeking to construct the 330-mile proposed pipeline from Wetzel County, W.Va., adjacent to the Mason-Dixon line in the north, moving south through the heart of West Virginia until it finally would cross into Pittsylvania County, Va. – after traversing the pristine Greenbrier River and cross some of the tallest peaks of the Allegheny Front.

Mountain Valley Pipeline Courtesy: FracCheckWV

Mountain Valley Pipeline
Courtesy: FracCheckWV

If approved, the 42” pipeline would transport at least two billion cubic feet of natural gas. MVP is owned by EQT and NextEra Energy Inc. EQT and its partners have yet to submit a formal application with FERC. It is expected to do so later this year. The companies hope to begin construction in late 2016. Construction is estimated to take about two years. The Mountain Valley Pipeline and other pipelines such as the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline are the direct result of the fracking boom in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

While environmental and property rights lawyers have been arguing that the use of eminent domain is premature – and hence, illegal – because FERC approval has not yet been granted, Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC apparently has determined that West Virginia State Code regarding eminent domains grants them the right in advance of FERC approval to survey private property, arguing that the survey results are essential for seeking FERC approval.

Indeed, company officials said so in letters the company sent out to the landowners demanding access to survey their property. EQT Corporate Director of Communication Natalie Cox said, “I cannot emphasize enough, the importance of conducting these survey activities, which are designed to evaluate the proposed pipeline routes currently under consideration and ultimately determine the route that has the least overall impact on the environment, landowners, and cultural and historic resources.” She added, “As referenced in the landowner letters, we rely upon West Virginia Code Section 54-1-1, et seq., to provide us the right to enter land for survey purposes.”

This sentiment as expressed by citizens of southern West Virginia on the Preserve Monroe website may be in jeopardy because of the MVP lawsuit

This sentiment as expressed by citizens of southern West Virginia on the Preserve Monroe website may be in jeopardy because of the MVP lawsuit

In the Civil Action (5:15-cv-3858), filed on March 27 in the United States District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC, argues, “This is an action for declaratory judgment and injunctive relief against respondents which seeks the right of entry and survey, as permitted by W.Va. Code 54-1-1, et. seq.

In paragraph 9, the petitioners argue, “There is justiciable controversy between the parties regarding whether MVP is authorized to enter the respondents’ properties pursuant to W.Va. Code 54-1-1, et. seq, to survey the properties to fix the location of a route for a natural gas pipeline.”

Later, in paragraph 82, MVP asserts, “W.Va. Code 54-1-1, et. seq, vests the power of eminent domain in companies such as MVP seeking to construct pipelines for a public use.” Two paragraphs prior, it argues, “While the Natural Gas Act does not expressly outline the procedure for natural gas companies to gain survey access to properties in connection with such pipeline projects, the West Virginia legislature has recognized the importance of pre-construction surveys, vesting private corporations with this authority, where, as here, private property ‘maybe taken or damaged for public use.’”

Is MVP correct? Here is what W.Va. Code 54-1-1 says: “The United States of America, the state of West Virginia, and every corporate body politic heretofore or hereafter created by the constitution or statutes of the state, and every corporation heretofore or hereafter organized under the laws of, or authorized to transact business in, the state, for any purpose of internal improvement for which private property may be taken or damaged for public use as authorized in section two of this article, shall have the right of eminent domain, and may exercise the same to the extent and in the manner provided in this chapter, and subject to the restrictions and limitations provided by law.”

Obviously, contends MVP, that provision is open to interpretation by the courts.

If the company establishes that this provision does grant them eminent domain, then the next question is whether or not surveys of the pipeline project are a legitimate purposes under the law. MVP is clear in referencing the proposed pipeline. “MVP is in the process of surveying properties as part of a project to construct a 300-mile, 42-inch natural gas pipeline through West Virginia.” It concludes, “It is necessary to enter the respondents’ properties to survey to appropriate necessary rights-of-way, obtain a FERC Certificate, and construct the pipeline.”

MVP also references section 54-1-3 of the state code. “As part of its rights of eminent domain, MVP’s right of access for survey is clear as West Virginia Code 54-1-3 specifically vests authority to ‘[a]ny incorporated company or body politic, invested with the power of eminent domain under this chapter, by its officers, servants and agents [to] enter upon the lands for the purpose of examining the same, surveying and laying out the lands, ways and easements which it desires appropriate.’ (emphasis added).”

MVP also claims that further delays will cause it “irreparable harm.”

Essentially, MVP has accurately quoted the West Virginia law guiding the use of eminent domain. The question is whether they have accurately interpreted it. Heretofore, attorneys advising landowners regarding these letters have argued that the gas companies could not exercise their eminent domain rights absent of FERC approval for the pipelines.

We can hope for justice, and trust that the court will rule in favor of the landowners. However, the law is sufficiently vague. And, corporations have received preferential treatment in the federal courts, especially since Citizens United. All of those who believe in individual liberty, property rights and the importance of environmental preservation should monitor this case closely. Furthermore, as has been pointed out by a landowner in Harrison County, W.Va., we should be suspicious of the relationship between FERC and the natural gas industry.

Should the court rule in favor of MVP, it will be a clear call to citizens to realize that elections have consequences. West Virginia’s eminent domain law is not geared towards protecting individual property rights. It is, however, particularly protective of the rights of the energy extraction industry.

We will soon know just how protective.

© Appalachian Preservation Project, LLC, 2015. The Appalachian Chronicle is a publication of the Appalachian Preservation Project. The Appalachian Preservation Project is a social enterprise committed to preserving and protecting Appalachia. If you wish to support our work, please consider becoming a member.

Also, the “Preserving Sacred Appalachia” Earth Day conference is scheduled for April 20-21 in Charleston, W.Va. This is a wonderful opportunity to be part of a community of like-minded preservationists to address the topics covered extensively on this site. Learn about it and register for it here.

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Seeking Dominion over His Own Land

Randolph County landowner on the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline route: ‘It’s my land; it must be my choice!’

By Michael Barrick

MILL CREEK, W.Va. – Joao Barroso spent years looking for the perfect parcel of land on which to eventually settle his family and build a natural preserve for others to enjoy. Finally, in September 2011, Barroso, 57, found such a place in an approximately 500-acre forested tract near Mill Creek, a small community situated in a picturesque valley in Randolph County. Indeed, the stream for which the village is named roars through his land, full from spring rains and snow melt. It eventually feeds into the Tygart Valley River downstream from his land. The river has formed one of the most breathtaking valleys in this region of West Virginia. Its headwaters are in neighboring Pocahontas County. From there, it travels about 135 miles before eventually joining with the West Fork River to form the Monongahela River in North Central West Virginia.

Mill Creek as it runs through the property of Joao Barroso

Mill Creek as it runs through the property of Joao Barroso

Beginning in 2014, Barroso added extra acreage to his property, bringing it to a total of about 650 acres. This expansion, he pointed out, demonstrates his determination to acquire land to preserve its natural wonder and beauty.

Now, however, the home place he dreamed of having for more than 40 years is in the sights of Dominion Energy, which wants to cross his land with the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP). So, what started out as a dream may well turn out to be a nightmare. While the pipeline has yet to be approved by the appropriate regulatory officials, and the route continues to change, Barroso has been telling Dominion that he does not want the pipeline on this property, as it would compromise his dreams and plans.

He has been refusing the company’s surveyors access to his property for nearly a year, since they first contacted him demanding access to his land to conduct a survey for the ACP and threatening him with eminent domain. He shared, “I am dismayed.” He explained, “Communication with Doyle Land’s surveyor (a company working on behalf of Dominion) did not go well when they first contacted me. As a result, and given their lack of feedback and apparent unwillingness to engage in a dialogue, I ended up contacting Dominion directly in the hope that they would be willing to openly communicate with me.”

At the end of 2014, after months of emails and not much progress, Barroso said, “Dominion finally decided to send a team to meet me in Elkins. The meeting lasted more than four hours and I had some expert consultants with me, including a hydrologist, an environmental scientist, and a botanist.” He shared, “I would say the meeting went well. I had, in fact, received a letter from Dominion’s lawyers, Steptoe & Johnson, giving me 10 days to OK the survey, or face a lawsuit. But the gentleman who headed the team for Dominion told me not to worry; he said he would take care of it, and he did. He told Steptoe & Johnson to back off. That was a pleasant surprise. He also said that Dominion does not like surveyors, etc. to threaten landowners with eminent domain. That surprised me even more!”

Barroso questioned, “How can these people threaten landowners with eminent domain when they don’t have the right and don’t have a green light from Dominion to do so? I told him it’s the worst thing they can do. It’s really bad PR and there’s no better way to get everyone against Dominion.”

He has yet to grant the company permission to survey, and the borders of his land are dotted with “No Trespassing” signs that include the explicit wording, “No surveys.”

“It is insane,” proclaimed Barroso, standing along one of 14 ponds on his property. “I still hope that common sense prevails and Dominion decides to move the pipeline away from my land. If they end up using eminent domain, all I have to say is that it is unconstitutional,” he continued, adding, “the use of eminent domain may be justified in some cases, but in cases like this, it is certainly nothing else but abuse.”

Dominion Energy and its ACP partners claim on its website that “The Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) is an essential public utility project designed to meet urgent energy needs in Virginia and North Carolina.” Barroso dismissed that argument as nonsense. “This is a private company, and the ACP, if it is approved and built, has only one purpose: company profit. It will be a clear case of abuse of eminent domain.”

He continued, “There is a very clear difference between providing a service to the public and what is a public service. All businesses serve the public, but they are not public services.” After a pause, he added, “What is the difference between what they want to do, and someone stealing his neighbor’s property because he wants to open a restaurant to serve the public, while the neighbor just wants to live with his family in peace? None if you ask me. Both are encroaching on private property for the same motive – engage in a business and make money for private profit. Both are wrong! The only difference may be that the restaurant is an investment of $500,000 and the ACP is an investment of $5 billion.”

Tracing his finger on a map of the proposed ACP route, he observed, “Look. It is going to connect to the coast in Virginia. Why? I am hard pressed to believe that this ACP project has nothing to do with Russia starving Europe for natural gas, or the Japanese market craving natural gas they do not produce. This pipeline is most likely going to transport natural gas for export.” He then added, “Even if you give Dominion the benefit of the doubt that this gas will stay in the country, it is still for their private profit. The ACP benefits first and foremost Dominion, meaning the company’s shareholders. The number of jobs created will be negligible, most temporary during the construction phase, and the well-paid jobs are all for out-of-state technicians and professionals. And this has nothing to do with energy independence, or clean energy. Natural gas burns cleaner than coal, for example, but if you consider all that is involved, it is not clean energy – far from it.”

The late winter sun reflects off of one of the 14 ponds on the property of Joao Barroso

The late winter sun reflects off of one of the 14 ponds on the property of Joao Barroso

The ACP, as well as several other proposed natural gas pipelines, has yet to be approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which is charged with studying the environmental impact of the proposed pipelines. Barroso is skeptical. Recalling Dominion’s January 21 open house in Elkins in which Dominion and FERC representatives were present to speak to landowners, Barroso shared, “There was a FERC employee there that could not answer my questions. He was a nice young man, but had no answers to any of the questions I raised. Then, after I left the open house, I also wondered, why would FERC have somebody there if not because they are working for Dominion.” Barroso continued, “A regulatory commission should be independent and neutral. They should be objective. They should listen to landowners and property owners without bias. There should be no FERC employee there, especially if unable to answer questions. This is a very obvious conflict of interest, in my opinion.”

Indeed, recently, preservationist groups from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia accused FERC of not properly informing the public regarding the construction of proposed natural gas pipelines throughout the region. Pointing to public comments by FERC Chairman Cheryl LaFleur, the groups argued that FERC is not providing the independent oversight required of it. Furthermore, Ernie Reed, president of Wild Virginia echoed Barroso’s arguments that the concept of eminent domain is being perverted. Reed argued, “These pipelines serve no public benefit as all current and proposed users are currently served by existing pipelines. FERC cannot ignore that these pipelines will massively increase gas extraction in the shalefields of West Virginia and provide huge volumes of natural gas for export.”

In addition to passionately arguing that his liberty will be trampled on by Dominion and whoever will sign off on the ACP if it ends up being approved, Barroso also pointed to the damage that will be done to the spectacular beauty of his land. Indeed, if the ACP should cross his land, it will disrupt the pristine ponds – a native brook trout hatchery under development. Also endangered are countless underground springs, the Gooseberry Cave – listed as hibernacula for the endangered Indiana bat – the bubbling springs, and other habitat for threatened and endangered species, the creek itself, and other features, including an old family cemetery on the property dating back to the 1800s.

Joao Barroso stands along Mill Creek on his property

Joao Barroso stands along Mill Creek on his property

“This is a very unique property,” said Barroso. “This ACP business will literally destroy it. Dominion told me they were considering alternate routes, but it has been two months since the last open house that took place in Elkins, and I am still waiting for feedback.”

Standing between the ponds and the creek, pointing to where the ACP corridor is set to cross his property, Barroso asked, “How are they going to go through that creek?” He continued, “Look at it. It is over solid rock. They cannot do horizontal drilling because they hit the side of the hill!” Additionally, from the valley floor on which he stands, at about 2,050 feet, he points to the two ridges that rise hundreds of feet – virtually straight up – on each side of the creek. One of the ridges is owned by various lumber companies, the other ridge is on his property. “Look at how steep and high those are,” he said. “How are they going to traverse that? On that side that belongs to Coastal, the ridge is 3,300 feet high according to topographical maps I have; on my property, that ridge is almost 2,900 feet. How do they intend to put a 42-inch pipeline up and down these hills, through the creek, and beyond? How safe is this going to be? There are accidents all the time, explosions. I don’t want my family living close to this thing.”

Referencing a list of pipeline accidents in the 21st century, Barroso offered, “It’s pretty scary to say the least. It’s almost 50 pages long if printed out! Take the time to follow the links, and you will find out that these accidents and explosions plague both old and new pipelines and in most of them, they never know what caused them! People die, property is destroyed, and lives are changed forever. As a property owner, I have the right to say, ‘No thank you! I don’t want a pipeline on my property.’”

Indeed, those are some of the questions that Barroso has asked of Dominion officials and their surveyors. “What about safety? Explosions? Response time, impact? Dominion promised to get back with me with data and more information, but so far, I have yet to hear from them.” He recalled, “At the open house, one of the Dominion officials that came to meet me in Elkins told another Dominion official, ‘In his case, we have made a mistake. We should not go over his land. We were not aware of all the features on his property.’” Barroso continued, “We had a pleasant exchange that day. They were quite open to admit that the way the routes are traced is based on nothing but maps, topography and often not very clear satellite photos, so they are hardly ever aware of what’s on the land and what landowners are doing with their properties.”

Of course, the mountain ranges extend in both directions far beyond his land. So even if Dominion should pick a route that does not include Barroso’s property, it will still have a 300-foot-wide survey corridor, and care out a 75- to 125-foot swath up and down countless mountain ranges to construct the pipeline, including some in nearby Monongahela National Forest and George Washington National Forest. Depending upon the route chosen, if approved, the pipeline could go through Kumbrabow State Forest, which has the highest elevation of any West Virginia state forest.

“It’s just insane,” repeated Barroso.

Following a long hike up a trail to the family cemetery on the property, Barroso stood in the warm afternoon sun, with patches of snow stubbornly refusing to melt at the high, shaded elevation. He acknowledged that he is talking to Dominion not only to defend his property rights and individual liberty, but also based upon his faith. “Nothing I have belongs to me. This is a stewardship. That is how I see things. I am here for a reason. God is in all this. We came here without anything and we will leave without anything. But what we are entrusted with, we have the responsibility to care for and leave a legacy to our posterity. I am not an environmentalist. There is too much negativity and pseudo-science associated with environmentalists these days, in my opinion. But I consider myself a steward over the land as an ecologist. From all the research I have done so far, the ACP will be, ecologically speaking, a disaster. There is no other way of putting it, and my opinion is that there is no way to mitigate the damage it will cause.”

He continued, “I want to leave my children something. And my grandchildren, and their children. It is a stewardship for them also.”

Walking back down the trail towards the creek, Barroso stopped to get a drink of water out of a natural spring tumbling down rocks. Wiping his mouth with his sleeve, he looked at the waterfall, then down to the creek. His eyes piercing and glistening, he proclaimed, “Water is life. It is my responsibility to protect it. One man’s liberty ends where his neighbor’s begins. This principle applies to private companies as well. The government is supposed to protect citizens, private property, landowners and businesses. If the government sides with the companies, developers and investors, and lets them use eminent domain to encroach on other persons or their property and condemn private property, something is utterly wrong.”

He concluded, “What is at stake here are private property rights. If private property is compromised, then nothing is safe in this country anymore.”

© Appalachian Preservation Project, LLC, 2015. The Appalachian Chronicle is a publication of the Appalachian Preservation Project. The Appalachian Preservation Project is a social enterprise committed to preserving and protecting Appalachia. If you wish to support our work, please consider becoming a member.

The Appalachian Preservation Project is also handling planning for the “Preserving Sacred Appalachia” Earth Day conference scheduled for April 20-21 in Charleston, W.Va. Learn about it here.

EQT Letter Characterized as ‘Misleading’ and ‘Bullying’

Landowner and environmental advocate question claims made by Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC attorney

By Michael M. Barrick

WESTON, W.Va. – Kevin Mullooly, a Lewis County landowner and former employee of Pittsburgh-based EQT Corporation, received a letter last week from an attorney representing the company’s Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) project. In the letter, Stephen E. Hastings, Counsel for Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC, references West Virginia Code 54-1-1 to threaten landowners with a lawsuit if they do not provide EQT access to their land by March 9.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline is a project of EQT and NextEra Energy Inc. If approved, the 42” pipeline would transport at least two billion cubic feet of natural gas along a 330-mile route from Wetzel County, W.Va. to Pittsylvania County, Va. EQT and its partners have yet to submit a formal application with FERC. It is expected to do so later this year. The companies hope to begin construction in late 2016. Construction is estimated to take about two years. The MVP and other pipelines such as the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline are the direct result of the fracking boom in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Mullooly is just one of numerous landowners throughout West Virginia to receive the letter according to EQT Corporate Director of Communication Natalie Cox. Cox acknowledged that she did not know how many letters had been sent out, but stated, via email, “I cannot emphasize enough, the importance of conducting these survey activities, which are designed to evaluate the proposed pipeline routes currently under consideration and ultimately determine the route that has the least overall impact on the environment, landowners, and cultural and historic resources.”

Mullooly did not interpret the letter the same way. He said the letter left one of his family members “pretty scared.” He explained, “We don’t want to go to court. I think it is a bullying technique. I worked for EQT. They just want to get us to cave.”

Additionally, Elise Keaton, the Outreach and Education Coordinator for the Greenbrier River Watershed Association (GRWA) questioned the assertions made by Hastings in his letter. During a break at a community meeting in Ireland, W.Va. on Feb. 28, where Keaton was speaking to about 75 landowners about the MVP, she said, “They cite the eminent domain statute. It implies a right they do not have yet.” She added, “That letter is misleading. It is intimidating.” Keaton, who is an attorney licensed to practice in Colorado, continued, “As an attorney, I am offended by it.”

In the letter, Hastings writes, “…the Mountain Valley Pipeline …will be regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.” Yet, as both Mullooly and Keaton point out, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has not yet approved the pipeline.

Hence, we asked Cox, “As you know that process is in the early stages and no approval has been granted. Wouldn’t you consider this phrase misleading?” Cox, responded, “The first sentence of the letter reads – ‘Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC wishes to resolve your concerns regarding the required land survey activities for the proposed construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), which will be regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)’ – and the intent of that sentence, in its entirety, is to educate or inform the recipient that the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline would be a natural gas transportation system managed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The sentence to which you are referring was not written to be misleading, and when reading or referencing the sentence in its entirety, the pipeline is referred to as being ‘proposed,’ which does not imply certainty of the pipeline project.”

Furthermore, Section 54-1-3 of the West Virginia Code states that access to property cannot be exercised under eminent domain without the landowner’s consent “…until it shall have obtained the right so to do in the manner provided in this chapter.” So, we asked “What federal or state law/statute/code are you relying upon to assert the right to access the land?” Cox replied, “As referenced in the landowner letters, we rely upon West Virginia Code Section 54-1-1, et seq., to provide us the right to enter land for survey purposes.”

Hastings concludes the letter, “If we have not received consent to access your property for the surveys, appraisals, tests and studies requested in this letter by March 9, 2015, legal action will likely be taken in order to obtain the necessary access. We hope this will not be required and we look forward to working with you.” In response, we asked Cox, “On what federal or state law/statute/code are you relying to threaten legal action?” and “What sort of legal action do you contemplate?” She replied, “As referenced in the landowner letters, we rely upon West Virginia Code Section 54-1-1, et seq., to provide us the right to enter land for survey purposes. While it is important for us to continue talking and working with our landowners, only as a last resort would we file a declaratory judgment and injunction matter to enforce our rights.”

Mullooly not only takes issue with the letter. He also shared that previous experiences with EQT make him hesitant to trust them. He said that a few years ago, the company sprayed herbicide from a helicopter over another pipeline on his property, killing about 100 trees. EQT refuses to compensate him for his losses, Mullooly said. “This is a 4,000 foot section. And 2,000 feet of it is over a fence line. As these trees die, they are going to fall and damage that fence. That is no worry to them either.” He added, “They are just not living up to their end of the agreement.”

Mullooly concluded, “I know how they fight. They will fight even when somebody doesn’t want to fight. They will intimidate.” He said that he and his family are considering contacting an attorney about the letter.

© Appalachian Preservation Project, LLC, 2015. The Appalachian Chronicle is a publication of the Appalachian Preservation Project. The Appalachian Preservation Project is a social enterprise committed to preserving and protecting Appalachia.

If you value authentic, independent investigative journalism, please consider supporting our work by becoming a member of the Appalachian Preservation Project.

Halloween in West Virginia – Many Treats, One Nasty Trick

By Michael M. Barrick

Halloween always conjures many memories of growing up in Clarksburg, West Virginia. Virtually all of the recollections are treats. However, there is one dastardly trick I will always remember.

First, though, I wish to focus on the treats.

The first treat was the costumes that my mom made for us every year. She would ask our wishes and out of our imaginations came costumes from her fingers and sewing machine. My favorite costume was that of the cowardly lion from the Wizard of Oz. It would have made a Broadway costume designer envious. It was complete with a tail that if I didn’t hold onto, would swipe my little sister in the face.

On the big night, mom would stay home and give away the candy to the neighborhood children. Making the costumes must have been joy enough for her, for it was Dad that always got to walk us through the neighborhood for us to collect our treats. Or, maybe it was her trick on my dad. Either way, it was a treat for us.

The other treat I recall is of time with Dad. He traveled a great deal in his job, so time with him was always coveted and special. We did sometimes have to fight him off, especially if a Hershey’s bar was dropped into our bag. If it had almonds, it didn’t even make it into the bag. By the time we got home with full bags and worn out feet, dad’s pockets were full of empty candy wrappers.

It is these lovely memories of treats that makes the trick all that more painful. That is because we lived on a dead-end street in a quiet neighborhood, full of children, consisting of the cobblestone streets on which we played. Our back yard was bordered by Elk Creek, had two ponds, and a canopy of trees. It was my sanctuary.

That home, however, no longer stands. Using the trick of eminent domain, the state tore it down to build what is now the Joyce Street exit of U.S. Rt. 50. Yes, I still have the memories. But what I don’t have is the opportunity to show my children where I grew up – where I came to be the person they know.

But I’m learning to accept it for a simple reason – not even that vile trick can deprive me of the lovely memory of the treats of walking through darkened streets with my sisters in costumes made by our mom, our dad tagging close behind.

© Appalachian Chronicle, 2014.