Pipeline opponents raise coronavirus concerns

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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ7) — Construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline could resume this spring, but opponents of the project say crews from other states should not be coming to Virginia and West Virginia during a health emergency.

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Mountain Valley Pipeline suspended construction last year, and it still lacks key federal permits that would allow the work to resume, but the company says it still intends to complete the project by the end of this year.

At a time when Virginians have been ordered to stay home, and many businesses have shut down to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, opponents of the project are saying "not so fast."

"They're coming from states in many cases that have higher COVID-19 rates than we do, like Louisiana where a lot of pipeline workers come from," said pipeline opponent Diana Christopulos.

In West Virginia, the group Preserve Monroe is asking Governor Jim Justice to issue a stay that would prevent transient pipeline construction crews from entering the state.

In a news release, the group described the workers' return as a "recipe for disaster."

"This issue is not about whether the pipeline should be finished or should not be finished," said activist and landowner Maury Johnson. "This issue is what risk are they bringing to our rural communities."

A spokesperson for MVP said the project team is focusing on environmental activities, including erosion and sediment controls that are essential requirements.

Natalie Cox said the company can balance the need for environmental protection while operating under COVID-19 restrictions and guidelines.

Diana Christopulos says it's not the work that concerns her the most.

"They would be living here. They would be eating here. They would be grocery shopping here. They would be getting their healthcare here," she said.

"Why can't they fall under the same kind of rules that the rest of us do?" she asked.

Following is an excerpt from the Preserve Monroe news release:

News Release: Monday, March 30, 2020

NEWS RELEASE FROM PRESERVE MONROE ABOUT COVID-19

Concerned citizens implore Governor to halt imminent influx of transient workers into West Virginia

"Last Friday, March 27, 2020, in light of the national COVID-19 pandemic, a local non-profit organization, Preserve Monroe, sent a letter to Governor Justice asking him to address an extremely important issue facing Monroe County and many other areas of rural WV: the imminent arrival of out-of-state pipeline construction crews.

The letter implores the Governor to please enact a 'stay' on the arrival of these transient pipeline construction crews to prevent them from entering WV during this health emergency.

It references the 'fiduciary responsibility' of elected officials to take all possible measures to protect the health and the welfare of their constituents, and asks the Governor to take appropriate action.

The letter points to the fact that unless local, state and /or federal officials act promptly, as early as April 1st, residents of Monroe County and other counties in WV face an influx of hundreds* of out-of-state workers who, as potential carriers of the corona virus, will place vulnerable populations** at even greater risk of COVID-19 infection. This influx would also put pipeline workers themselves at risk as they usually stay grouped on campgrounds or in overcrowded hotels, rental apartments and houses.

The letter cites statistics which show that their transient 'way of life' brings with it an increase in STD’s and other communicable diseases which require on site medical attention from local health providers. It also points to the fact that the living and working conditions transient workers experience makes strict adherence to intricate COVID-19 protection protocols, nearly impossible. The letter refers to these conditions as "a recipe for disaster in rural communities whose health services are already stretched way too thin."

As one of the co-authors of the letter stated, "In the absence of a vaccine, we now know that the only truly effective measure is isolation. The presence of transient workers, therefore, not only puts workers themselves and local populations at greater risk of infection from COVID-19 but would also expose the entire state to the now well-documented 'exponential spread' of the virus."

Following is the complete statement from Mountain Valley Pipeline spokesperson Natalie Cox.

"It is important to note that the MVP project team is currently focusing on environmental activities, including maintaining erosion and sediment controls. These environmental activities have been essential requirements in our regulatory permits and are closely monitored by state agencies, as well as the public at-large.

Mountain Valley, like other businesses in the state, can balance the need for environmental protection and operate under COVID 19 restrictions and guidelines. As environmental work continues, MVP personnel and contractors, the majority of whom are local persons, are following recommended public health guidelines, as related to COVID-19, and will continue to incorporate additional precautions as health guidelines are updated."

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