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W.Va. residents protest PATH project, quarry before debate

October 17, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

HEDGESVILLE, W.Va. -- Thursday's West Virginia gubernatorial debate at Hedgesville High School was targeted by more than a dozen area residents opposed to a proposed high-voltage electric line and quarry projects in the Eastern Panhandle.

"CARE is looking to elect a leader of West Virginia who is willing to preserve and protect the environment and the residents," said Wendy Hudock of Gerrardstown, W.Va.,-based Citizens Alliance for a Responsible Environment, which formed to fight a quarry proposed just outside the Berkeley County community.

"And to be responsive to the folks at this end of the state," added Millie Martin, also of Gerrardstown.

Hudock and others opposed to the quarry project proposed by North Mountain Shale LLC, a subsidiary of Martinsburg's Continental Brick Co., were joined by several others like Sheila Hennessy of Shepherdstown, who along with her husband, William, were protesting the Potomac Allegheny Transmission Highline (PATH) project.

"A lot of people are going to lose their homes," Hennessy said. "From what I understand, there's no benefit at all to the people of West Virginia."

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The PATH project is a proposed 290-mile, 765 kilovolt transmission line that would begin at American Electric Power's John Amos substation near St. Albans, W.Va., and travel across the middle of West Virginia into the Eastern Panhandle and then farther east to Kemptown, Md.

The project is not expected to affect the Hennessys' property, but their neighbors, a lot of whom have "just moved in," would be affected if the line is approved, they said.

"We wanted to make sure that (Gov. Joe Manchin) and the other gubernatorial candidates are aware that the Eastern Panhandle is adamantly opposed to PATH," Shepherdstown resident Patience Wait said of the protest.

The candidates were asked about both the quarry and power line projects in the debate held at the high school's auditorium.

"The question I have is, 'Why can't we use the existing route that they are currently using for these transmission lines?" asked Republican Russ Weeks.

"As governor, I will stand up for the property owners and make sure that their rights are protected as best as we can depending on the laws and how they affect the situation," Weeks added.

Mountain Party candidate Jesse Johnson said imminent domain was dangerous, agreed with Weeks' views on property rights and said the state should become a "model of energy conservation."

"A corporate citizen having more rights than you and I, we the people ... is what's destroying this nation," Johnson concluded about various projects that have caused environmental health concerns, including mountaintop removal.

Manchin encouraged residents to get involved in the review process by the West Virginia Public Service Commission. He added that the state could review the route selected, even if the federal government forces the project to be done because of national interests. Manchin said he would support a transmission tax to the project that would generate revenue for the residents, counties and the state.

"If they're going to mandate it happens, you do it in the least intrusive way and then you to do it to benefit everybody involved," he said.

Manchin reiterated that residents concerned about the quarry should get involved in the due process of state agencies who are reviewing the project, which he acknowledged he talked with Gerrardstown residents about.

Weeks said he was unfamiliar with the project, but was inclined to believe that the historic community would be "protected by the courts."

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