On behalf of the Jefferson County Development Authority (JCDA) and numerous stakeholders in the business community, we are writing in support of the current effort by Mountaineer Gas to expand the natural gas distribution system here in the Eastern Panhandle. The purpose is to provide a brief history of the project, demonstrate the significant stakeholder support for it, and to dispel some misinformation that has been spread about the project in order to set the record straight.
Since the inception of the JCDA in 1979, we have prioritized the expansion of natural gas service into Jefferson County. Natural gas is an affordable energy source that is produced right here in West Virginia, and is much more environmentally friendly than other types of fossil fuels. Over the years, countless businesses have explored moving into or expanding in Jefferson County, but ultimately determined that the lack of natural gas service significantly impeded their ability to do so. Until recently, the expansion of natural gas service in Jefferson County had been just a dream.
In 2013, through a collective effort of local stakeholders led by the JCDA, a feasibility study funded by the Jefferson County Commission was initiated to determine what it would take to finally bring natural gas into Jefferson County. The results of this initial study indicated that the lack of natural gas in Jefferson County was an impediment to business development, and that for the first time ever, natural gas service to Jefferson County appeared to be economically possible.
By this time, the current natural gas system in the Martinsburg area was coincidentally near full capacity. With little room for expansion, this existing system was now in dire need of capacity to accommodate not only the organic growth in the area over the years, but also the exciting and game-changing announcement that Procter & Gamble would soon construct a large manufacturing and distribution facility along Interstate 81 in Berkeley County. The situation quickly garnered tremendous attention, and the list of stakeholders grew immediately to include the West Virginia Development Office, the Development Authorities of both Berkeley and Morgan County, the Region 9 Planning and Development Council, the Berkeley County Commission, the Morgan County Commission, and many local, state, and federal officials.
The need to expand the natural gas distribution system in the Eastern Panhandle was now a much more important issue, and the regional scope of the need now required a more significant effort. Consequently, the Region 9 Planning and Development Council commissioned a broader feasibility study in March of 2014 to find a way to address the problem. This study was jointly funded by the JCDA with support of the Jefferson County Commission, the Berkeley County Development Authority, and the West Virginia Development Office. The study results clearly illustrated the need to expand not only the existing system, but to extend this much-needed infrastructure into both Jefferson and Morgan County.
In addition to the study results, and the incredible stakeholder support, the project got a much-needed boost when the West Virginia Legislature passed Senate Bill 390 in March of 2015. This bill authorized the WV Public Service Commission to approve expedited cost recovery of natural gas utility infrastructure projects. The bill was passed with resounding bi-partisan support, including a unanimous vote by the WV Senate, and passed the House of Delegates with a vote of 94-5. Every member of the Eastern Panhandle delegation, regardless of political affiliation, voted in favor of the bill. Governor Earl Ray Tomblin signed the bill into law on March 24, 2015, paving the way for this much-needed project.
Aside from the history, we also want to address several facts about this project that have been misinterpreted or misreported. One of those is the fact that this a distribution project, not a transmission pipeline that only transfers gas across our area, without giving access to our residents and businesses. The line will be no larger than 10 inches in diameter, and will operate at lower pressures than the much larger above-ground pipelines out West, to which our project has been erroneously compared. In fact, the sole purpose of this line is to distribute gas to the un-served areas of the Panhandle. Businesses and individuals will absolutely have access to this resource.
Obviously, the safety of this project is very important to our community. Mountaineer Gas has operated and maintained the existing system in the Panhandle for approximately 50 years, and have demonstrated an excellent safety record here. They currently service almost 6,000 miles of gas lines in the state, and provide natural gas to over 200,000 West Virginia customers. We are confident that the project will be installed properly and safely.
The prospect of a natural gas distribution line coming into Jefferson County is very exciting. It will mean business expansion opportunities that we’ve never had before. Our goal at the JCDA is to promote economic development and create quality jobs for our residents so that fewer people will need to travel outside of the county to work each day. We have made great strides in the past several years in attaining this goal. Please join us in supporting this very important economic development project. Thank you.
ARTICLE BY: Eric Lewis, JCDA President, and John Reisenweber, JCDA Executive Director
— Editor’s Note: the views and information expressed here do not represent an Observer position for or against the pipeline, but rather an equal opportunity for all sides to have a voice in the ongoing conversation concerning its future.