Prove your humanity

This story comes from WVTF/Radio IQ in Virginia.

Note: The Mountain Valley Pipeline, which starts in West Virginia, will transport natural gas from the region, including from southwestern Pennsylvania, to southern Virginia.

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The company building the Mountain Valley Pipeline, Equitrans Midstream Corporation, announced Monday they are merging with EQT, the company that originally created that spin-off company, and says they’re still on track to begin running gas through the pipeline by June. But some residents along the route in Virginia worry their concerns about pollution and safety aren’t being heard.

Since January 1st, there have been 42 citizen reports citing alleged pollution along the Mountain Valley Pipeline in Virginia. Radio IQ interviewed several people who filed complaints with the Department of Environmental Quality, or DEQ.

“DEQ tends to come after the fact, And they’ll say, ‘well it looks ok,'” said Kathy Chandler, whose property in Roanoke County is crossed by the MVP. “It’s been frustrating to say the least.”

“After we file pollution incident reports to DEQ, none of us ever hear back from anyone within these regulatory agencies,” said Kellie Ferguson, who lives in Giles County and is a community organizer with a group called Protect Our Water Heritage Rights (POWHR).

A spokesperson with DEQ, Irina Calos, said the agency promptly investigates all reports, and in all of these 42 cases, inspectors found no evidence MVP had violated any laws. Calos said some temporary sediment and mud may occur from heavy construction.

This doesn’t give Donna Pitt reassurance that her community of Giles County is safe from long-term effects of this pipeline.

“Every day I drive past this,” Pitt said. “Every other week or so I test water and see what it’s done to this beautiful pristine environment. And I’m sick. And I’m just furious. I’m furious at politics. It’s almost like, well, we feel like we were sacrificed. Little old Appalachian town, what do they know?”

As she spoke, Pitt was standing beside a spring in the community of Newport, in Giles County, that supplies drinking water to a family that lives in a lovely historic home from the 1800s. But in late January, their spring started spewing muddy water.

A stream with light brown water

Photo from early February, where a spring was filled with muddy water. Several weeks later, the spring began running clear again. Photo: Roxy Todd / Radio IQ

Calos said the pollution was caused by MVP construction. “MVP determined that the sediment in the water is related to a bore pit that it has excavated,” Calos explained. Their agency coordinated with MVP and a karst expert with the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation to mitigate the effects of the pollution.

Two weeks after the complaint about the polluted spring was originally filed, DEQ closed this investigation. The landowner, who didn’t want to be recorded, told Radio IQ that MVP workers have visited several times supplying them with drinking water. The company cleaned mud out from the spring and from their hot water tank, and the family has begun drinking the spring water again.

“The fear is that it will happen again,” said Ferguson. She’s especially concerned because so much of the land in Giles County has underground caves and springs.

“They didn’t actually fix anything. They put Band-Aids over the situation and are hoping for the best, I guess,” Ferguson said.

A few miles from the spring, another incident occurred in mid-February at another MVP site. On a steep mountain, there was an apparent landslide. The site looks like a crack opened in a cliff.

Crews have been at work with a large drill near the landslide, and Ferguson and others with POWHR said they believe MVP is trying to stabilize it with concrete and rebar.

Radio IQ reached out to Equitrans Midstream Corporation, the company building MVP, for clarity on this site, as well as other concerns residents have, but the company did not respond.

A spokesperson with the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration said their agency is aware of this incident and has been regularly inspecting sites along the MVP, but didn’t provide additional details.

Historic building in downtown Newport, in Giles County, Va., a sign reads "Stop Mountain Valley Pipeline! Protect our children, safety, property rights, heritage & water!"

Historic building in downtown Newport, in Giles County, Va. Photo: Roxy Todd / Radio IQ

Back in the town of Newport, Kellie Ferguson sits in a small white gazebo, beside a road that winds through a dozen small homes in this once-pristine community.

“And you don’t see a pipeline like this going through a wealthy community,” Ferguson said. “You see it going through poor Appalachia.”

She admits she’s been losing sleep worrying that there could be further disasters, if gas is flowing through the pipeline. MVP has set their target date for that for June.