Proposed gas pipeline in Montgomery County draws criticism

CHRISTIANSBURG — Citizens packed the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors meeting Monday night in search of more information on a proposed natural gas pipeline that is expected to run through Montgomery and surrounding counties.

“It’s one of the largest ever,” Angela Stanton of Montgomery County said of a possible 42-inch diameter pipeline, while her husband Wil held a silver-coated hula hoop up for the supervisors and citizens in attendance to visualize the size of such a pipeline.

The Stantons, who are members of Preserve the NRV, a group opposed to the pipeline, said they received a letter approximately two weeks ago requesting permission to come onto their land for surveying related to the pipeline.

Others landowners in Montgomery and surrounding counties have received similar letters, prompting opposition groups to also form in Floyd and Franklin counties.

The proposed 330-mile pipeline would move natural gas fracked from shale formations in West Virginia to a compressor station in Pittsylvania County. The project was proposed by Pennsylvania-based EQT Corp. and Florida-based NextEra Energy this summer, and the expected route would take the pipeline through Montgomery, Floyd, Giles, Pulaski, Franklin and Henry counties.

“Fracked gas going through the pipeline is much more pressurized than traditional gas,” Angela Stanton told the board. Gas pipelines are a danger to landowners and the public, she said, citing a 2008 gas pipeline explosion in Appomattox County that injured five people, leveled two homes and inflicted damage on 100 other homes. Williams Gas Pipeline was fined nearly $1 million for safety regulation violations that led to that explosion.

The Stantons received applause from a few dozen people in attendance at the conclusion of their presentation to the board, and were greeted in the lobby afterward by citizens seeking more information. They encouraged landowners who receive letters related to the project to return a certified letter to the company informing them that they do not grant permission to the companies to come onto their land. Six members of the public followed the Stantons presentation to the board by expressing their own concerns about the project.

The board has vowed to relay information on the project to the public as quickly as possible, but has said they have little power to demand information on or direct the project.

The board also approved by consensus a $1.8 million request from the Montgomery County School Board for carryover funds, or unused funds leftover from their previous budget. The supervisors did not, however, approve an additional $575,000 request from the school board for capital maintenance projects, deferring on the request until other county departments are given a chance to make their carryover requests to the board.

The school board plans to use $130,000 of the carryover funds to participate in the state’s e-learning backpack initiative, a matching grant initiative that allows schools that were not fully accredited to purchase tablet computers for incoming freshman. Eastern Montgomery, Auburn and Christiansburg High School were eligible for the grants.

The school board has also planned to include Blacksburg High School in the initiative, with the county absorbing the complete cost of the program at that school.

All seven members of the board of supervisors attended the meeting.

 — By Spencer Dennis, contributing writer

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