ROCKY MOUNT - A public meeting set up by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Wednesday evening to hear comments about the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline project at Franklin County High School resulted in around 75 comments, one at a time and behind closed doors.
"I wasn't expecting it," Preserve Franklin County Chairman and local business owner Mike Carter said, referring to the format of the session, "Let's face it, this is America and this is a meeting that should have been open for the public and media to hear other's comments."
FERC invited the public comments one at a time in a classroom along with a stenographer so the comments could be taken and recorded accurately. The comments were limited to three minutes each.
Many opposed to the pipeline argue the project would decrease property values, public safety, and hurt the environment. There is also concern over the pipeline taking away from the natural Franklin County setting.
Supporters of the pipeline point out the potential for economic growth and jobs in the area.
The pipeline would start in northern West Virginia and through Franklin County, connecting with an existing pipeline in Pittsylvania County just east of Chatham.
At a meeting on October 18, the Franklin County Board of Supervisors decided not to take any action for now, voting against selling land in the newly-acquired business park for $91,785.81 for a right-of-way-easement to the pipeline.
"There are a lot of people that are very opposed to the pipeline," Gills Creek Supervisor Bob Camicia told Dick Shoemaker on Cable 12's October 19 "Rise and Shine" program.
"The decision process is one that unfortunately, none of us have a lot of input into," Camicia continued. "It's difficult because you're dealing with the federal government."
"I think as they do additional surveys, as they listen to public comment, they [FERC] find ways to adjust it to make it less obtrusive or damaging as it comes through," county administrator Brent Robertson said on "Rise and Shine" October 19. Robertson said he would be asking FERC to explain the latest changes to the pipeline route, including the pipeline only crossing the Blackwater River once instead of twice.
FERC held another public comment session in Roanoke November 3. At the Franklin County meeting, tables were set up outside of the auditorium for people to submit written comments and sign up to give verbal comments. FERC called individuals by number to give their comments.
"It's just another way of FERC controlling things for their benefit," Carter said, citing the format of the meeting.
On the "Rise and Shine" program October 19, Camicia explained the importance of the sessions.
"The individual inputs have a lot more impact than do inputs from politicians," Camicia said. "There are a lot of people who think it's a good idea... but they are very quiet."
Mountain Valley Pipeline says construction on the project would start in mid 2017 with a late 2018 completion date.