ROANOKE, Va. – Work has resumed at some of the Mountain Valley Pipeline construction sites in southwest Virginia, and now there’s a new debate over construction concerns.
Two local governments are asking the pipeline company to pay them back for police activity.
Roanoke County leaders said Monday that they want the company to reimburse them for police involvement around the extended protests. They’re including out-of-the-ordinary situations, like police spending weeks monitoring tree-sitters Red and Minor Terry in Bent Mountain, but not normal calls for service.
A county spokeswoman said the activity has cost the department $91,955. More than $53,000 of that is overtime pay.
County attorney Ruth Ellen Kuhnel told 10 News Monday that the county will be sending an invoice in one to two weeks.
“It shouldn't be fair for our average citizen who's just paying their real estate tax bill to shoulder that burden if MVP, who stands to profit from this, could reimburse us for those costs,” Kuhnel said.
She said county leaders have been talking to MVP officials for three years about the project and feel they have a cordial relationship.
“We're Roanoke County. You're coming on our turf and we've tried to be as collaborative as possible and we're hoping on the strength of our relationship that they're going to be willing to pay this,” she said.
MVP officials said Monday that there’s no agreement for the company to pay any local governments for this activity.
“There have been no formal arrangements for reimbursing any locality along the MVP route for public safety-related expenses associated with construction of the project,” MVP spokeswoman Natalie Cox said.
She did not comment on whether MVP will pay.
Amid questions from some protesters over why law enforcement members would be monitoring work sites, Kuhnel said Roanoke County police felt like they had to be present when groups of people gathered. They feel they need to both enforce the courts’ orders and keep people safe.
Kuhnel noted that emergency response times can be fairly high in the rural areas of the county, which makes the presence of police more valuable, and she added that police made sure the staff could handle other calls in other places during the prolonged time they were monitoring protest sites.
Some, however, have disagreed with the decision from Roanoke County police to enforce court orders to allow construction.
Roanoke Tea Party president Greg Aldridge said Monday that county leaders mishandled the situation and shouldn't have had police there around the clock.
“They're complaining now about the cost of dealing with those operations but they shouldn't have been up there protecting the pipeline in the first place. They should have been protecting the landowners,” Aldridge said.
He and many other pipeline opponents believe that because the guidelines and court orders come largely from the federal level, federal law enforcement should have policed any disputes.
“I think instead of asking for reimbursement they need to be kicking the pipeline people out of our county. It's not too late to stop the process, protect property rights and do this properly,” he said.
In Franklin County, leaders said Monday they’re considering a request similar to Roanoke County’s invoice. Supervisor and pipeline opponent Mike Carter said it’d be for “frivolous” calls for disputes, and they would bill MVP for about $7,000.
Carter said the county hasn’t spent much overseeing protests but wants compensation for calls from both MVP workers and residents over minor disputes.
The discussions stem from a meeting in February during which MVP officials said they would take care of certain expenses, according to Carter. In a meeting last month, the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office reported it spent about $7,000 on calls related to activity around pipeline construction between March and mid-June.
Pipeline construction has resumed at five Virginia sites, including one in Roanoke County and one in Franklin County. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality posted on its website that it inspected the sites before giving approval for work to continue. The company paused work June 29 due to erosion concerns.
The planned route for the natural gas pipeline runs from West Virginia into North Carolina, crossing through Giles, Montgomery, Roanoke, Franklin and Pittsylvania counties in Virginia. Federal judges have approved the use of eminent domain, which allows the company to use people’s land to build the pipeline, and has denied numerous requests for reconsideration.