David Paylor, director of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, listened Thursday afternoon to residents of a small community in Giles County who are destined to live in a “high consequence area” if the Mountain Valley Pipeline project moves forward.

Later, on Thursday evening, Paylor heard from residents of Roanoke County and Franklin County who, like their counterparts in and around the village of Newport, fear the pipeline could divert or taint the pristine waters that sustain them.

The first meeting was at the Newport Community Center. Much of the village would be within the 1,115 foot “potential impact radius” if the pipeline ruptured.

The second was at Cave Spring High School in Roanoke County. About 137 people attended the Newport meeting. About 140 showed up at the high school. A total of 36 people spoke to Paylor and his DEQ colleague Fred Cunningham at the two meetings.

The settings were different. But the concerns Paylor heard centered on a common question: How is DEQ going to protect water quality and wells and springs from a 42-inch diameter, buried natural gas pipeline whose deep trench will pass through areas rife with sinkholes and caves, travel up and down steep slopes, encounter shallow bedrock that requires blasting and burrow through highly-erodible soils and areas prone to landslides?

A companion question was this: If the worst happens and a well goes dry or suddenly reveals contaminants, or if sediment chokes a stream, or if groundwater that moves miles underground at a fast clip, often in a direction not yet identified, is polluted, what happens then?

“Apologies will not be sweet solace,” said Lynn Williams, whose property in Newport is on the pipeline route.

Paylor responded with a consistent message. It hinged on the phrase “reasonable assurance.” He said DEQ will not recommend to the State Water Control Board that the Mountain Valley Pipeline receive the water quality certification it seeks if the company’s plans for the pipeline fail to provide a reasonable assurance that water quality will be protected.

One of Paylor’s answers to the companion question about a worst-case scenario was not well received in Newport, where he told Jerolyn Deplazes that if she lost access to her water an alternative source would have to be provided.

Mary Beth Coffey of Bent Mountain told Paylor she’d recently learned about “water buffaloes,” a type of water storage tank. She made it clear nothing could replace the clean, clear water that currently serves her home.

“We are in line for our water to be destroyed,” she said.

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The Roanoke Times – Duncan Adams – 08/10/2017

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