Erin Herbig of Clifton may soon face construction crews from Washington Gas Light Co. installing a natural gas pipeline under her property.
"Safety is the biggest concern," said Herbig. "Having a gas pipeline go through a water source and a neighborhood is dangerous."
Washington Gas is proposing the construction of a natural gas pipeline, 6.1 miles in length, which will tap into an existing pipeline that runs from Centreville to Woodbridge.
Representatives of the utility say that it is necessary to build the Northern Virginia Reinforcement (NVR) pipeline because of the growing energy needs of Fairfax and Prince William counties. "It provides a necessary reinforcement, and offers a cost-effective means to provide natural gas," said Huey Battle, area manager for Washington Gas.
However, the company's plans have met opposition from residents in the southwestern portion of Fairfax County whose land is directly affected. They also object to the company's proposal to run the pipeline under Fountainhead Regional Park and the Occoquan Reservoir. "My property is not directly affected," said Bob Boudreau, Herbig’s neighbor, "but I am very concerned about putting a gas line under the reservoir."
Supervisor Elaine McConnell (R-Springfield) invited residents to meet with Washington Gas representatives at an Aug. 4 meeting at the West Springfield Government Center.
"This is an informational meeting for the people to learn the process," said McConnell on Aug. 4. She also pointed out that the Board of Supervisors is not a part of the process and that people should understand the steps of the approval process if they wish to fight the proposal.
AT THE MEETING, Fairfax County attorney Dennis Bates explained that projects of this nature are dealt with at the state level and regulated by the State Corporation Commission (SCC), because Washington Gas is a public utility. McConnell and Bates were joined at the meeting by representatives from Washington Gas, Northern Virginia Park Authority (NVRPA), Fairfax County Water Authority (FCWA), Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and citizens from the area.
The SCC, a three-person body elected by the Virginia General Assembly, controls the approval process. However, if Washington Gas satisfies the standards set by the NVRPA, the FCWA and VDOT, then the SCC's approval would not be needed. Washington Gas has already obtained permits from VDOT, and two-thirds of the proposed pipeline is in public right of way.
Dave Evans, VDOT's representative, told those at the meeting that Washington Gas' proposal meets all of the VDOT requirements. The company will do its digging on the side of the roads, and if a road is damaged, the company will pay for it.
Residents seeking to block the installation of the pipe must persuade the NVRPA or FCWA to reject the plan. "I don’t like that there isn’t much we can do about it," said Boudreau. "I do intend on writing my state delegate."
NVRPA representatives said that they would not make a decision on the matter before having a public hearing, which will likely take place in September.
The issue at hand has not yet reached the FCWA board. Talks between Washington Gas and the FCWA remain at the technical level. "We want to protect the drinking water supply," said Burton Rubin, a member of the FCWA board and its representative at the Aug. 4 meeting. Rubin added that once the issue gets to the board, the FCWA will also conduct a public hearing regarding it.
WASHINGTON GAS and the NVRPA have been in contact since February 2002 regarding the pipeline in question. This news angered some who were in attendance at the Aug. 4 meeting. Some said that they had only recently been informed of the plan and that too much secrecy was involved in the communications between Washington Gas and the NVRPA.
"I don’t like that the planning has been going on for two years," said Boudreau, "and I’m just finding out about it from a neighbor."
In addition, the residents at the meeting had not been aware of the installation of another gas pipeline in the area about 18 months ago by Dominion Power.
However, the NVRPA disagreed that the contact between them and Washington Gas had been secret. "We ran an ad in The Washington Post "and put up signs in the park," said Todd Hafner, NVRPA's representative.
Herbig acknowledged the Park Authority’s efforts in informing the citizens but said, "Washington Gas has been less than up front with the citizens, and it is not appreciated."
Meeting attendees who live near Fountainhead Park expressed concerns over the safety of having a natural gas pipeline run near their property. They questioned the regulation of gas flow, the durability of the pipeline, and whether Washington Gas could do repair work if necessary once the pipeline had been laid under the reservoir. "Manufacturing meets or exceeds the standards for safe design, installation and operation of the pipeline," said Hardeep Rana, manager of engineering at Washington Gas. "Gas flow through the pipeline will be regulated by four valves, one at start, end and either side of the river."
As far as the durability of the pipeline goes, Rana said that the pipeline is made of carbon steel and protected by a coating of polyethylene, and it is engineered to safely withstand the underground environment. Regarding corrosion and maintenance, the pipeline is continually monitored and regularly maintained.
ANOTHER TECHNICAL concern expressed by the meeting attendees was the fact that Washington Gas does not have experience in horizontal directional drilling (HDD), the method the company plans to use to extend the pipe under the Occoquan Reservoir.
In its presentation materials, Washington Gas explained that HDD has many advantages, among them "environmental impacts are minimized, and water flow and other activities can continue unhindered during installation." HDD is a way of drilling that uses a very limited space to dig, and therefore, it impacts the environment the least.
"We do not have the experience in HDD," said Rana, "but have hired a company that does." That company is J.D. Hair & Associates, based out of Tulsa, Okla. J.D. Hair has 16 years’ experience in HDD and has produced manuals related to HDD for the Pipeline Research Committee at the American Gas Association.
Washington Gas is still attempting to negotiate with residents around Fountainhead Park whose property lies directly on the proposed route.
"Why build a natural gas pipeline under the river," asked Herbig. "Why not go around?" Herbig wanted to know what alternatives had been considered.
Washington Gas representatives explained that the proposed route was the shortest and least expensive. The answer drew a negative response from the meeting audience, who said that the proposed route is the most convenient for Washington Gas, not for the other parties concerned.
"I am very concerned that the parkland is being used as a transit point," said Boudreau. "I think they could go around it."
Rana explained that the proposed route was preferred to the alternatives. One alternative was far too east to benefit the company, and too congested in terms of the number of homeowners. Another alternative was eliminated because the concerned road was heavily traveled, and it still involved a water crossing. A third route went through the picnic area and the marina of the park. The final alternative that was discussed involved two additional water crossings.
"We are bound by the State Corporation Commission to find an option that is cost-effective and one that affects the fewest people," said Battle.
If the proposed plan is to be implemented, Washington Gas would work to install the pipeline on the edges of roadways, at least three feet underground, until the Occoquan Reservoir is reached. According to Rana, the installation would last six to nine months.