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A Booming Debate in Virginia Run

Residents voice opposition to natural gas pipeline facility in their backyards.

Sylvia Ehinger and her husband Phil Cookson of Virginia Run are furious that Williams/Transco, a natural gas and electric company, are planning to build an above-ground, 13,000-square-foot natural gas pipeline facility in their backyard.

ON SATURDAY morning, they joined 75 other frustrated neighbors in voicing their opposition at the Virginia Run community center.

Residents gathered with local politicians to discuss the Williams/Transco proposal of building a gas facility on the corner of two easements in the heart of Virginia Run.

The facility is expected to be 7 feet high, surrounded by a fence topped with razor barbed wire. Besides being a definite eye sore for the community, homeowners have a list of other objections.

"What frustrates me is the lack of accurate and timely information that Williams gave to us; they limited the information to suit the needs of their project," says Cookson. "This multibillion dollar company feels that they can steamroll through everywhere, and it's quite clearly not fair."

At the meeting, supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully) said, "Clearly these folks want information and answers to their questions, and I can make sure that they get that."

The legislative director for Del. Tim Hugo (R-40th), Julie Dime, agreed. "I'm here to hear what the community has to say, to get feedback, and to see what I can do to try to get the answers to the questions they've been asking. The community is owed those answers, no matter what the outcome is."

The lack of timely information has been frustrating for some. "If we would have known, we would not have bought this house," said Ehinger, who moved in seven months ago. "Not a single person knew of the above-ground facilities. Just a few weeks before the closing date on our house, we received a letter from Williams saying that they were going to change the gas pipeline from 30 inches to 42 inches. But nothing was mentioned about an above-ground facility."

Neighbor John Enescu, who has been living in Virginia Run for two years and will also be directly affected by the building, is outraged. "If they have to build here, then they have to buy my house," he said. "I should be compensated."

RESIDENTS FEEL frustrated and believe that building the above-ground gas facility in the heart of Virginia Run should not be allowed to happen. "The prospect of industrializing in the heart of our neighborhood is just a tragedy," Cookson said.

"Kids play here, they play soccer and everything," said Ehinger. "We have a jogging path, too — 24 miles of it that will be disrupted by the construction."

In addition to the construction that is scheduled to begin in May and end in November, 24-hour security personnel will be required to monitor the facility and ensure the safety of the community.

Even neighbors who will not be directly affected by the proposed site and construction are angered. Melinda Welch, the previous owner of Ehinger and Cookson's house said, "This is a tight community and it's upsetting to see our neighbors have to go through this."

State Sen. Ken Cuccinelli (R-37th) said he was there "to walk it, to learn the sites a little bit better," he said. "Today I am trying to get more information and learn as much as possible."

Despite all of their concerns, members of the community remained hopeful that the meeting would help in making local officials aware of their situation. "I hope that Williams decides to put it at a less populated site. We are looking for alternatives," says Sandy Moare, a Virginia Run resident of 13 years.

"We've had a lot of support from people. There's been a big community effort," said Cookson. When asked if he was optimistic after the meeting Cookson smiled and said, "I'm always optimistic."