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Virginia Run Waits Cautiously for FERC

Virginia Run residents are cautiously optimistic after last week’s public meeting sponsored by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), where residents voiced their concerns over a proposal by Williams/ Transco to build an above-ground natural gas pipeline facility within 50 feet of several homes.

RESIDENTS FEAR that placing such a facility in a high-density area of Virginia Run will create a serious safety hazard, have potential environmental impacts, and affect 1,400 families.

While Williams/ Transco maintains that alternative locations suggested by the Virginia Run Homeowners Association (HOA) are not viable or practical options, politicians such as U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-10th), Del. Tim Hugo (R-40th), and Chairman of the Fairfax Board of Supervisors, Gerald Connolly, among others, have taken a stance in favor of further review.

On March 6, Wolf requested in a written statement that FERC, "take no action on Transco’s pending request until it is determined whether Transco properly notified the Virginia Run community about the proposed project and that a complete and full review of all alternatives recommended by the HOA is completed."

In the next two days, Supervisor Michael Frey (R-Sully) and Del. Tim Hugo (R-40th) also wrote letters to FERC supporting Wolf’s statement and asking for FERC to review all possibilities before considering Transco’s application. Residents of Virginia Run are especially thankful to Hugo for his strong and early support. For example, Hugo backed residents by telling FERC that he, too, had "personally been given incorrect and grossly misleading information by representatives of Transco."

Additionally, in a written statement to FERC, Hugo said, "I will do everything I can on the state level to ensure that the citizens of Virginia Run are satisfied."

Resident Andrew Boyd said: "Del. Hugo has done a fabulous job. We’ve also had support from Virginia State Sen. Ken Cuccinelli." Adding with the list of help is Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, who sent a letter to FERC on Tuesday expressing similar concerns.

ADDITIONALLY, Chairman Connolly asked FERC to request that Transco consider alternatives that could avoid the need to construct an above-ground pipeline facility. He also urged FERC to re-examine its Environmental Assessment, paying particular attention to environmental impacts on Fairfax watersheds and parks.

"We still have a long road ahead of us, but I feel that we are finally being heard and have gained federal representation," Boyd said.

"Compared to where we were one month ago, we have come a long way," says Amy Millman, a resident of Virginia Run. "I think FERC’s reaction was what it should be. They took pause and realized that they have to have Transco address our concerns."

It seems FERC has heard the message from the residents of Virginia Run and from local politicians. A major development is that the Transco agenda will not be discussed at this month’s meeting as originally planned. Instead it will likely be reviewed on April 19, which gives FERC more time to review and request information from Williams/ Transco.

The FERC environmental project manager, Danny Laffoon, said, "At this stage, we will review all of the information before us and go forward from there."

Still, nothing is guaranteed and residents of Virginia Run are holding their breath. "There are still many questions that are unanswered in terms of safety, evacuation, and more pressure going through the pipelines," says Melinda Welsh, a nine-year resident. "We still have a long way to go and need to continue writing to our delegates."

Boyd, as the father of four small children, agrees that safety is the biggest concern. "We’re really worried about safety and the potential effect of people having to evacuate," he said. "I don’t want to invite anything into my neighborhood that might force me out of my home."

WILLIAMS/ TRANSCO appreciated Friday’s meeting and believed it was a good opportunity for residents to voice their concern, but felt that many concerns and statements by residents were simply not true. "There were a number of people who repeated the facilities would not be safe, but the truth is there isn’t even pressurized gas in the above-ground piping," said Williams/ Transco representative Christopher Stockton. "Others said there would be evacuations required every time we needed to internally inspect the piping. Again, this just isn’t true."

For now, Virginia Run residents and Williams/ Transco will have to wait for FERC’s ruling, which may come some time in April. Residents remain hopeful, but realize the decision could go in any direction at this point.

"We hope that a decision will be made soon, but it is not in our control so we really can’t predict when that might happen," says Stockton.

"Where this is going to end, I just don’t know," says Millman. After learning all about pipelines, pigging, and various technology, she jokingly said, "Maybe we’ll have a pork BBQ to celebrate, but it is premature at this point — anything can happen."