As pipeline looms, historic newport braces for change business gas in michigan


A survey crew working for Mountain Valley Pipeline recently hammered a stake into the Echolses’ yard about 65 feet from their home. The crew knotted orange surveyor’s tape near the top of the stake, signifying that it marks the centerline of the proposed 42-inch diameter buried pipeline that will transport natural gas at high pressure — if the controversial project moves forward.

Inside the Echolses’ home, a six-pound Bible, ringed by framed family photos, occupies the center of a coffee table in the living room. Fern referenced a parable from the Old Testament when trying to explain how it feels to imagine losing her home to a pipeline company.

Pipeline proponents, including Gov. Terry McAuliffe, emphasize that the natural gas the project would transport could stimulate economic development, provide a cleaner fuel than coal for power generation and aid the nation’s quest for energy independence.

Meanwhile, after residents of Newport — including the Echolses — expressed concerns early on about a proposed route’s proximity to the Newport Recreation Center, the Mayapple School and a rescue squad building, FERC directed Mountain Valley to shift the route.

In October, Mountain Valley proposed a revised route — moving the pipeline next to the Echolses’ house and closer to the center of Newport and to historic structures that include the circa-1853 Newport-Mt. Olivet United Methodist Church, the Methodist Parsonage and the C.A. Hardwick house, both circa 1909.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration prefers the phrase “potential impact radius” over “blast zone.” The radius designates the range in which the failure of a pipeline “could have a significant impact on people or property.”

For the Mountain Valley Pipeline, the potential impact radius would be about 1,115 feet — a range that would include the Echolses’ home, the parsonage, the Hardwick House and the Methodist church. The recreation center, preschool and rescue squad building still would be within the zone as well.

According to FERC’s draft environmental impact statement for the project, the pipeline company noted that the Methodist church, located about 400 feet from the revised route, would qualify as a “high consequence area,” or HCA, a locale in which a gas pipeline accident “could do considerable harm to people and their property.” On Sundays and during weddings and other ceremonies the church might host dozens of people, creating a potential for “considerable harm.”

Sara Gosman, an assistant professor at the University of Arkansas School of Law who serves on the board for the Pipeline Safety Trust, a nonprofit watchdog organization, said that even though the probability of serious ruptures of natural gas transmission pipelines is low, when failures do occur they tend to have high consequences.

According to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, in 2014 there were more than 301,000 miles of natural gas transmission pipelines in the United States. There have been 1,315 significant incidents with pipelines from 1996 to 2015 and 46 associated fatalities.

The Greater Newport Rural Historic District Committee and its Ohio-based attorney, Matt Fellerhoff, contend that Mountain Valley and its contractors have not adequately inventoried the historic and cultural resources of the rural historic district or the Newport Historic District.

As a result, the pipeline company has failed to fully identify the impacts of the project on these resources, the committee contends. FERC’s draft environmental impact statement for the project acknowledges that the commission needs additional information to assess the effect of the pipeline on the Greater Newport Rural Historic District and other historic resources.

FERC notes, “We conclude that the MVP may have adverse effects on historic properties, and those effects would have to be resolved through an agreement document.” FERC recommended that Mountain Valley not begin pipeline construction until after the completion of additional surveys and consultations.

The perceived threat of the Mountain Valley Pipeline has proved to be a unifying force, said Jean Porterfield, who lives on a farm near Newport that she said has been in her family for more than 200 years. Porterfield has written impassioned letters to FERC about the potential impacts of the pipeline on the region’s environment and wildlife and on residents who feel a deep and abiding attachment to the land.

Cisek drove Fern and Earl to Roanoke on Nov. 3 so they could share comments with FERC about the commission’s draft environmental impact statement for the project. Fern Echols began by sharing her fears about having to leave the family home. She said a contractor working for Mountain Valley had told her she and Earl would likely have to move.

After the meeting that night, during the drive home, Cisek called Rick Elmore, a right-of-way agent for Coates Field Service, a contractor working for Mountain Valley Pipeline. Cisek, whose property could be affected by a pipeline access road, said Elmore told her that Friedman was wrong.

Contacted this week, Elmore referred questions to Matt Clark of Coates Field Service, who did not return a phone call. Mike Williams, Coates Field Service’s project manager for the Mountain Valley project, declined to comment; he referred questions to Cox.

Instead, she offered a more general statement: “MVP understands and believes in the importance of continuing to work with landowners and community members to discuss sensitivities and potential minor route adjustments, which include the avoidance of occupied structures.”

“The presence of a 42-inch, high-pressure pipeline, just 65 feet from the house would, in my opinion, make it nearly impossible to sell,” Overstreet said. “There are always other houses for sale that are not encumbered in that way. This is not to say that someone would not buy it at all, but it most certainly would be at a severely reduced price.”

The couple said they feel both powerless and perplexed about how a private pipeline company can take their property or acquire an easement across it without their consent. Their son Lloyd, 57, acknowledged he gets upset just contemplating the prospect of his parents losing their home. It’s Lloyd’s son, Jason, who is a Marine.

Fern Echols said her faith sustains her. She references scripture from Exodus in which Moses tells the Israelites that the Lord will deliver them from the pursuing Egyptians. She said she hopes that someday soon the pipeline people will leave and let them live in peace.