Open house planned at Craig County High School April 7
NEW CASTLE – Although elected officials have not taken a stand on the natural gas pipeline proposed to cut through the county, more than 85 audience members at the March 19 Craig County Board of Supervisors meeting made clear they oppose the idea.
Opponents rose to their feet to applaud loudly at the end of a presentation by two representatives of Preserve Craig in the standing-room-only courtroom that has posted capacity of 120 people. Several county residents stuck it out to the end of the meeting to explain to the supervisors why they don’t want surveyors for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, nor the 42-inch line itself, bisecting their property and national forest woodlands.
During the first half-hour of the supervisors’ meeting, Preserve Craig co-chairmen Bill Wolf and Sam Easterling presented a petition against the pipeline with 1,221 signatures. They said 871 of those had been verified as Craig County residents.
In addition to fears of safety, the possibility of natural gas carried in the pipeline could pollute ground water and construction of the line through Craig County farmers’ land could reduce property value. Opponents emphasized county landowners have been “disenfranchised” and “not afforded due process” by the pipeline company.
Those are fighting words in Craig, where landowners have a tradition of keeping outsiders off their property. Before the meeting, one landowner was overheard asking Sheriff Clifford Davidson outside the courtroom if the sheriff’s office would back him up. “If you call me about somebody trespassing on your property, I’ll arrest him,” Davidson answered.
County citizens have criticized Mountain Valley Pipeline for not holding a community meeting to inform landowners about the company’s plans, and instead, sending surveyors to call or appear at people’s homes to ask for permission to survey land.
Mountain Valley representatives Maurice Royster and Rob Shinn told supervisors the company plans to hold an “open house” to explain the pipeline proposal between April 7-9, “probably in Craig County at the school,” Royster said. On Thursday, the Craig County Administrator’s Office confirmed the open house will be held Tuesday, April 7, from 5:30-8 p.m. at Craig County High School.
“I know this is very sensitive for Craig County as it is for many counties,” Royster said. “We want to engage with you…”
As far as “What’s in it for Craig County?” which residents have been asking, Royster said the county could get about $900,000 in taxes annually from the pipeline.
Supervisor Carl Bailey questioned that figure, asking if it was guaranteed and pointing out that a major portion of the proposed pipeline would probably not be taxed at the same rate because it would run through national forest woodlands.
Supervisor Keith Dunbar asked why Craig County “was pulled into the alternative routes” for the pipeline so late. Royster replied the company’s initial possible routes – first shown in Floyd, Giles and Montgomery counties – were close to the Appalachian Trail, for one.
Dunbar pointed out Craig has the AT going through the national forest close to the proposed route, as well as several endangered species: the spring mussel and bald eagle.
Supervisors Vice Chair Martha Murphy – who chaired last week’s meeting in the absence of Chairman Fred Craft – pointed out that letters sent by the pipeline company to landowners and the packet handed to supervisors that night were missing the route map showing Craig County.
“Our citizens haven’t even begun to have a conversation about what’s in the county,” said Murphy, whose own land would be affected by the possible route from Elliston in Montgomery County, across Rt. 42 in Craig and continuing on to West Virginia.
During a 10-minute recess between the first portion of the supervisors’ meeting and scheduled public hearings on changes to the county’s budget from current fiscal year funds, Murphy explained her family property encompasses 65 acres that butts up against the national forest. A portion in the Wildlife Restoration program is within 50 feet of the proposed pipeline route, she said.
As the route is shown on the pipeline company maps, the line could run through the community of Maggie, the Maywood Triangle and other historic areas of the county.
County resident Kristi DeCourcy said the route “would hit almost every single property in Fox Fire residential community in Craig and Montgomery counties. She estimated 12 to 15 of those homes are on the Craig County side.
After the break, 76 people remained in the courtroom. About a dozen were teachers and school personnel who were there for public hearings related to additional funds for the county’s school system.