Groups seek to suspend building of gas pipeline
By Lois Caliri

The Roanoke Times
4 June 2003

A Duke Energy spokeswoman said Duke is confident that it will win on every challenge.

AUSTINVILLE - While Duke Energy continues to drill a natural gas pipeline under the New River, opponents on two fronts are building cases to stop the project.

The Virginia Association for Parks has asked Gov. Mark Warner to try to stop Duke Energy from building the pipeline and a proposed gas-fired power plant near Foster Falls in Wythe County.

The National Committee for the New River and Barbara Smith, opponents of the project, have appealed to the District of Columbia Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals a federal government ruling that the pipeline can proceed.

Duke Energy spokeswoman Gretchen Krueger said Duke has the state and federal approvals to build a natural gas pipeline, and the company is confident that it will win on every count.

Duke is laying a 93-mile pipeline across Wythe, Carroll, Patrick and Henry counties on route from Tennessee to North Carolina.

"The Virginia Association for Parks is adamantly opposed to both of these construction efforts and respectfully asks that you intervene," wrote Johnny Finch, co-chair of the private association. "Significant environmental concerns are posed by both projects. For example, the power plant would be in the view shed of the New River Trail State Park. Thus, to the users of the state park, the power plant would produce visual pollution of the view shed, light pollution of the night skies, and sound pollution during all operating shifts."

It is estimated that visitors to Virginia's 34 state parks pump about $150 million a year to the state's economy, Finch wrote.

Secretary of Natural Resources Tayloe Murphy, in his response to the association, said "the pipeline is under construction, having received all the state and federal approvals necessary ... directional drilling is being used to place the pipeline under the New River and New River Trail with the intention that there would be no adverse impacts to the river or trail.

"At this point we do not know if this project will move forward," Murphy wrote.

Murphy recently said he was surprised at what he saw at the drill site.

Eruptions of bentonite clay, used as a lubricant in the drilling process, were visible near the location of a future horseback riding campground in the New River Trail State Park.

Clay from some of the eruptions had been directed into a holding pond, with bales of straw stacked along its border next to the equestrian campground.

Murphy said he was disturbed because Duke officials told the Virginia Marine Resources Commission last year that the drilling would not disturb park property.

Duke officials said they told state agencies that they would not damage park property under normal drilling operations.

"We told the state we did not anticipate getting on park property, but during construction, things happen," said Rick Smith, project director. "We've assured the state that we'll leave the state park the way it was before the drilling," Smith said.

The drilling at the New River hurts the campground under construction, said the appeal filed by the Committee for the New River. A permanent right of way through the proposed campground would interfere with the use of the property and restrictions will change the use of that property.

Visitors and campers would be hurt psychologically, knowing there's a gas line under the campground, the appeal said. The campground would appear to meet the definition of a federal safety rule saying the campground is an "area of high consequence where a pipeline accident could do considerable harm to people and their property," the appeal said.

The park is building an equestrian campground between the New River and the New River Trail. The campground will have 40 pull- in trailer sites with utility hookups and a 128-stall horse barn with future development to include flush toilets and showers. The drilling would cross under the planned campground and the New River Trail.

The drilling has already caused some damage to the campground, but Duke said Friday that repairs have been made.

The company said clay and water used for drilling had created fractures in several places, including restrooms that were under construction.

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