Last week members of the Franklin County Board of Supervisors and representatives from Mountain Valley Pipeline had a series of private meetings to discuss erosion and sediment control.

Three separate meetings were held that included supervisors and staff members from the planning and public works departments, said County Administrator Brent Robertson, who attended all three meetings.

The meetings were held with two supervisors at a time to avoid the public meeting requirements of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act. Under the act, meetings of only two members of a public body do not need to be held publicly unless this constitutes a quorum or committee.

Two of the board’s seven supervisors were unable to attend the meetings.

Boone District Supervisor Ronnie Thompson, the only supervisor who has publicly shared his opposition of the pipeline, wanted the meetings to be held publicly, Robertson said.

Robertson described the meetings as “information gathering” sessions. He also said public meetings aren’t usually held when officials are still in the planning stages.

The county planned to share the insights gathered from the meetings with the public, Robertson said. They will discuss the meetings when they return to open session in Tuesday’s board of supervisors meeting.

Robertson said he thinks county officials and residents have the same goals in protecting the environment, and this was just the county’s way of gathering information that will help them to take the next steps.

When Mountain Valley was asked to hold the meetings in public, they “in effect declined to do that,” Robertson said. Mountain Valley representatives did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.

Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC is a private company, and they aren’t accustomed to doing their daily work in public, Robertson said.

Holding three separate private meetings was “just more pragmatic,” Robertson said. It allowed county officials to ask questions and get a good understanding of the type of work that will be done if the project is approved.

There has been a lot of discussion about how the pipeline would affect the county’s bodies of water, something of particular interest to Franklin County, sometimes referred to as the “land between the lakes.”

At the July board of supervisors meeting, a group of residents presented the board with a resolution concerning erosion and sediment control.

Specifically, the resolution asked that the Department of Environmental Quality require the pipeline developers to provide site-specific erosion and sediment control plans that are available to the public; the county be able to review the plans and conduct inspections and developers and third-party inspectors meet with local officials before construction begins.

Although the board discussed the resolution at its August meeting, it did not adopt it because it wanted to go in another direction.

Instead, the county is talking with other localities, including Roanoke County, to see what they plan to do. Some of that discussion has centered upon asking the DEQ for adequate oversight, not unlike the proposed resolution, Robertson said.

“That’s why we had those meetings with MVP — to understand what they were going to do and how they may go about it so we would know what our options would be,” he said.

The county intends to bring some kind of resolution to the board, either at next week’s supervisors meeting or the following one, Robertson said.

Carolyn Reilly of Preserve Franklin, a group that opposes the pipeline, said it seems as if the meetings intentionally excluded the people who initiated the discussion.

“To have a private meeting and coordinate it specifically so we can’t be a part of that conversation and ask the questions feels very — disrespectful is not a strong enough word,” she said.

Reilly said it is the county’s responsibility to share whatever information was obtained in the meeting with the public.

Members of Preserve Franklin will continue to speak out until they feel their voices are heard, Reilly said. The group still hopes to see action from the county on the issue of erosion and sediment control.

“They can say over and over again that they cannot do anything on a county level to stop this, but I don’t believe that that’s necessarily true,” Reilly said. “This resolution is one step, one simple thing. It’s not saying that they have to come out in opposition — we’ve stepped down from that.”

Thompson, the supervisor who requested the meetings be held publicly, said he doesn’t know Mountain Valley’s motivation for keeping the meetings private, but said the county went along with the plan “because that’s what was offered.”

“Half a piece of pie is better than no pie,” he said.

During the meeting, Thompson said he asked what was being said that couldn’t be said in front of the public, and what they were trying to hide. He was told nothing was being said that couldn’t be said in front of the public.

Thompson said his response was: “They should be willing to do it then if they have nothing to hide.”

Casey Fabris covers Franklin County, Rocky Mount and Ferrum College.

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