HINTON — As shareholders took part Tuesday in an EQM meeting in Pittsburgh, a different type of stakeholders held their own meeting in Summers County concerning EQM's 300-mile pipeline project through West Virginia and into Virginia.

For the last few years, a vocal group of local landowners has fought the energy giant, trying to halt construction on the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) through protests and legal battles.

A small group of those landowners argued Tuesday in Hinton that the pipeline interest and the government need to be held accountable — for how business has been conducted and for the possible implications of the massive pipeline project bisecting the state north to south.

"While EQM is talking to their shareholders, I wanted to remind the folks of West Virginia and Virginia that are affected by this pipeline that we are also stakeholders," said Neal Laferriere, a resident of Summers County who owns a forest farm. "This project runs through our neighborhoods, our farms and our communities. It is important to remember that we have a stake in this and part of that stake is ensuring that this project is done properly."

Getting emotional, Laferriere said his young daughter has been having nightmares about the pipeline exploding, as it runs through his land.

According to Laferriere, since the beginning of 2018, there have been six pipeline explosions in Appalachia, none of which match the size of MVP's 42-inch pipeline.

"We want to lay claim as stakeholders in this project and make sure it's not just about the project's profitability," Laferriere said.

One chief concern for Laferriere is the lack of government oversight on the construction project.

According to the forest farmer, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has only one inspector working in the entire southern region of the state. This inspector is responsible for oversight of the MVP, the Mountaineer Xpress Pipeline already in place and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, also under construction.

"There is no physical way for that inspector to be able to cover that much ground and properly ensure that this project is being done in a viable manner," Laferriere said.

Maury Johnson, a lifelong resident of Monroe County, agrees with Laferriere on the lack of oversight. 

The pipeline runs through Johnson's property, which has been in his family for generations.

"I've been there 59 years," Johnson said. "I'm 59 years old. My grandfather was there. My great-grandfather was there."

Johnson considers himself a citizen monitor, watching the construction of the pipeline from the south side of the Greenbrier River in Pence Springs to where the project tops Peters Mountain crossing the Appalachian Trail into Virginia.

According to the Monroe County man, he has made more than 104 complaints against the pipeline, taken more than 900 pictures and written more than 1,000 pages.

"It's not that I'm doing this because I want to do it," Johnson said. "It's because they're destroying our water. I see the creeks that are literally dead, they have no micro-invertebrates in them. The mayflies are not there. The mussels are not there anymore."

While noting that the DEP inspector does respond, Johnson believes that state regulation oftentimes makes complaints useless.

According to Johnson, the DEP inspector has to personally see the project's runoff causing issues with the environment in order to remedy the situation, and due to the large coverage area, it oftentimes takes days for the inspector to arrive.

The Monroe County man also said his neighbors have to get drinking water trucked in due to the project. Further, he said an organic farm he knows in Franklin County, Va. has lost its organic status because of the pipeline.

Johnson said that the state has a history of selling out to industry. For him, the pipeline is just an extension of that.

While he admitted that the project has added jobs to the local economy, he noted that those jobs are, for the most part, temporary, while damage from the pipeline is permanent.

"We need to do better," he said. "We can do better."

Mark Jarrell contends that the pipeline goes against the American belief in private property rights.

A West Virginia native, Jarrell returned to retire in the area where his ancestors first settled prior to the Revolutionary War.

"I think they would be turning over in their graves if they knew what happened to private property rights," Jarrell said.

He spoke specifically about a for-profit, privately owned company, EQM, taking more than 3,000 linear feet from his 90-acre property on the hillside above where the MVP is set to cross the Greenbrier River in Pence Springs.

Jarrell said his first interaction with the pipeline set the tone which has followed for the last few years.

The landowner was asked for access to his property by MVP surveyors and when he delayed, he was told flat out that the company could survey the land because of eminent domain.

When Jarrell was told he had to a certain day to comply, a neighbor informed him that surveyors were on his land before that date arrived.

"My first contact with MVP was a lie," Jarrell said.

Much like Jarrell, M.J. Clark said her dream of retiring in the Mountain State has been dashed by the pipeline project.

Originally from Charleston, Clark moved out of state for work before buying a 150-acre farm in Braxton County. She returned to West Virginia to take care of her aging mother and ill son.

Unbeknownst to Clark, the property she bought is just four miles from one of three compressing stations planned for the pipeline. The Braxton County compressing station encompasses 16 acres, which is larger than the county's high school.

Clark said she attempted to get answers from her local county commission, state delegates and senators and even the governor's office. The officials either lacked knowledge of the station or were unwilling to share information, she said.

"I have talked to over 600 people in my county asking, 'Have you heard that we are getting a compression station?'" Clark said. "Until Friday, this past Friday, one person said, 'Yes, I've heard.'"

Clark said construction on the compressor station wrapped up this Monday.

The Braxton landowner is worried about the noise from the project with its two massive turbines, as well as the chemicals it may release into the air during a process called "runoff," which she said happens at given hourly intervals.

Clark said that recently while outside at her property, she was alarmed to hear a jet, only to discover it may have been the compressor station completing tests four miles away.

"Isn't anyone else concerned?" Clark asked. "You need to ask questions. You need to look it up like I did because you won't get answers from your officials."

While fearful about noise and possible pollutants, Clark is also concerned about the compressing station's impact on the value of her land.

Paying $350,000 for the property, Clark said she recently visited her local accessor's office to attempt to discover what her land is worth now that the compression station is complete.

While not given an exact answer, Clark said she was told that it will be lower.

"I'm paying $1,600 a month to live in a place that I thought was paradise," the landowner said. "I have a three-acre pond, 35 feet deep. I have a pine tree forest. I have a rock quarry. I have three streams, freshwater streams running through my property. I found paradise in West Virginia to find out now there's a compression station."

-- Email: mcombs@register-herald.com; follow on Twitter @mattcombsRH

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