CHRISTIANSBURG — An advisory arm of the Montgomery County’s governing body voted Wednesday night in favor of a special use permit needed for the proposed construction of a natural gas gate station near the border of Montgomery and Roanoke counties.
The 4-2 vote from Montgomery County’s planning commission came amid overwhelming opposition from local residents who spoke out against the gate station during a public hearing Wednesday.
The permit, which will need to be approved by the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors, was requested by Roanoke Gas, which services approximately 60,000 customers across the Roanoke Valley and a tiny section of eastern Montgomery County.
The station itself would tap into the controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline and allow Roanoke Gas customers in both Roanoke and Montgomery counties to receive natural gas from the project.
The opposing comments Wednesday largely echoed the distrust of the pipeline and pointed to environmental concerns as reasons for the county to not approve the permit.
Some speakers also raised questions about the preparedness of local emergency responders to any potential issues with the gate station, while others argued that local tap could be used as a way for the greater pipeline project to later bring a compressor station to the same area.
The pipeline project, which currently has federal approval to build approximately 100 miles of pipeline in Virginia, once envisioned a compressor station in Montgomery County but later dropped that proposal.
Compressor stations add pressure to natural gas to keep it moving down a pipeline, but can also be sources of air, noise and water polllution.Jim Shockley, the vice president of operations for Roanoke Gas, told the planning commission that the gate station would give the utility some added capacity while also reducing local customers’ distance from the energy source. He said in a separate interview that he expects that distance reduction to reduce some customers’ bills. Shockley said that demand has been up, with commercial and industrial usage, respectively, growing by 20 percent and 4 percent between 2017 and 2018.
“The demand is up,” he said. “One of the reasons for that is we’re very proud to be partners with Virginia Tech Carilion, and their … expansion of their research institute.”
Shockley’s comments, however, failed to appease those who spoke out against the permit.
“These facilities are notorious for leaking gas and cancer-causing agents and what could be long-term effects on the area,” Henry Bryant, an Elliston resident, said. “I want my grandchildren to grow up with clean air and clean water, not with a facility nearby that can cause them harm.”
Other speakers echoed some of Bryant’s concerns, including the claim of his section of Montgomery County being neglected.
Planning commissioner Bryan Rice, who voted for the permit, said that most of the concerns he heard seemed to address the pipeline concerns in general.
“While a lot of people might have a lot of emotional conversations concerning Mountain Valley,” Rice said, “I think that the applicant has said that there’s a need, and the impact is minimal on surrounding neighbors.”