The mood in the room was somewhat tense but restrained as more than 350 people packed the Virginia Run Community Center last Friday. Residents voiced their concerns over Williams/ Transco’s proposal to build a large, above-ground natural gas pipeline facility in Virginia Run — a move that could affect 1,400 families.
Sponsored by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the purpose of the meeting was to have their statements formally recorded.
A FERC Commission will evaluate all comments and use the information as part of its decision-making process. Friday’s meeting was significant because it is FERC that must approve Williams/ Transco’s proposed facility in order for the project to begin.
The consensus at the meeting was that residents feel deceived about the project: “Unfortunately Transco hasn’t been forthcoming or answered questions, and as residents we feel we haven’t received adequate notice,” said Lynda Flanigan, a 15-year resident of Virginia Run. “Our biggest issue is safety and if there is even a remote possibility that something could happen, I would think that Transco would put it in a non-residential area.”
In a statement written to FERC, U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-10th) said, “I implore FERC to take no action on this project until it is determined if Transco properly notified the community and a review of all alternatives recommended by the Home Owners Association (HOA) is completed.”
The Virginia Run community states that it does not oppose pipeline service or safety inspections, but does believe there are safer and more reasonable alternatives. However, Williams/ Transco representative, Christopher Stockton, maintained that the location was chosen for numerous reasons and that the proposed location is the best site. Stockton was glad residents had the opportunity to express their concerns at the meeting but said, “there was still quite a bit of misinformation that was presented as ‘fact’ that we would have liked to have had the opportunity to correct before the group.”
He said that Williams/ Transco began meeting with representatives back in June 2006. Yet when one resident asked everyone to raise their hands if they had been informed of the above-ground plans, not one hand went up in the room of 350 people.
“The next step is for us to review all of the information before us, and the Commissioners will determine if the present proposed facility will be approved or not,” said FERC's environmental project manager, Danny Laffoon. He also mentioned that even if the facility is approved, FERC can require that certain conditions be met prior to any construction.
RESIDENT BJARNE HENDERSON hopes that FERC will understand where Virginia Run is coming from. “This is really a matter of safety and development of proper technology as opposed to getting things done as cheaply and quickly as possible,” he said. “But in all fairness to FERC, they’re just getting all of the information now because the community wasn’t aware of the above-ground facility until recently.”
Neighbor Flanigan agrees. “This is just not a good thing for a big business to do. There are various options that would still allow Transco to build a facility, but to build it in a safer area.” There is one thing that Williams/ Transco and the Virginia Run community might agree on. As Stockton said, “All we can do at this point is allow FERC to evaluate all of the data and make their final decision regarding the project.”