After a closed-door session at its monthly meeting, the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority board has chosen to move ahead with negotiations that would ultimately put a gas pipeline under Fountainhead Regional Park.
The decision paves the way for NVRPA staff to enter into negotiations with Washington Gas Light, the public utility company that would install the pipeline.
"After careful consideration of the various factors involved in the proposed pipeline, the NVRPA board authorized staff to negotiate an agreement with Washington Gas, under certain parameters," said Todd Hafner, planning and development director for the NVRPA.
NVRPA board member Paul A. Gilbert, who represents Fairfax County on the board, explained that, at its Nov. 18 meeting, the board was divided on the subject, with six of the nine members present in favor of the plan and three opposed.
"There wasn't full agreement by the board on Thursday, but there was a position taken," said Gilbert.
Gilbert said that despite the equivocation, the board agreed to move forward cautiously, sending a more conservative proposal to Washington Gas at the bargaining table.
"It's an area with a lot of natural and historical resources that will have some impact, and we don't take that lightly. The whole board believes we have a real responsibility to the community to be good stewards," he said.
The proposed 6.1-mile pipeline would be bored under the Occoquan Reservoir, on which Fountainhead Park is situated. The 12-inch-diameter pipeline would transmit gas from an existing line located north of the park, allowing Washington Gas to provide residential gas service for new homes being constructed on the Prince William County side of the reservoir. Construction on the project would take six to nine months. The gas line would enter Fountainhead Regional Park on Wolf Shoals Road and would run under the reservoir for approximately 430 feet.
A public hearing on the matter took place on Oct. 25, at Fairview Elementary School. At the hearing, seven residents of the area to be affected by the pipeline spoke, including residents of both Fairfax and Prince William counties.
"I recognize the company needs to do business and the people on the other side of the river need gas," said Dr. David Harris, a resident of Wolf Run Shoals Road. "If I had my druthers, they wouldn't do it."
Harris has lived on Wolf Run Shoals since 1986, and said he has been told Washington Gas plans to run the pipeline along the front of his property. He said at one point, he was told the trees along the front of his property, as well as a fence, would need to be taken down for the project. Those disruptions, he said, would prevent him from signing the easement necessary to allow Washington Gas to do the work.
Harris said he and his wife Lynda, who also spoke at the public hearing in October, enjoy horseback riding in Fountainhead Park
"There are personal concerns, but certainly we are also concerned what it will do the park area," said Harris.
Since Washington Gas is a public utility, the project is regulated by the State Corporation Commission, under Virginia State Code. The NVRPA approval process is a necessary step toward Washington Gas’ securing an easement, which would mean the SCC would not need to approve the project.
The board's decision means that for now, it desires to move forward, but negotiations could stall on the bargaining table.
"It could be or it could not be. It’s still up in the air," said NVRPA spokeswoman Carol Ann Cohen.
Negotiations could begin within the month, said Hafner.
"It's not a very easy decision, because clearly there's a negative impact to the park and there is some community opposition to it. On the other hand, there is generally a need to have inter-jurisdictional cooperation, and that goes with all utilities," said Gilbert.
"It shows a good faith on the part of the Park Authority to deal with the needs of other jurisdictions, like Prince William County. They need more natural gas."
If the NVRPA easement is granted, Washington Gas would then need to request an easement from the Fairfax County Water Authority to cross the Occoquan Reservoir.