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Oil and Gas Traffic Concerns Heard at Meeting

January 23, 2019

Members of the Wetzel County Oil and Gas Task Force came together Friday, Jan. 18 at the Mollohan Center, where task force members and community residents discussed traffic concerns and industry-related activities.

Steve Lancaster, a concerned citizen, said children's safety on buses and the highways is in jeopardy due to the oil and gas traffic. He said there needs to be more signs - displaying curfew hours, and those curfews must be obeyed.

Lancaster said children's wellbeing does not need to be influenced by a construction job, and he noted the oil and gas companies would not want kids at their sites, due to safety. However, Lancaster argued, the oil and gas companies are bringing their construction sites to this area. Therefore, help from the companies is needed to ensure the children's safety, Lancaster said.

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Photo by Telina Frye
There was a large turnout of area residents at the Jan. 18 Wetzel County Oil and Gas Task Force meeting. Many individuals commented on concerns with oil and gas industry traffic.

"Death is not a pretty sight, and it is one that can be prevented for our children with your help," Lancaster said.

John Horner, a school bus driver, also expressed concern for the safety of children. He said there is a curfew on Eight Mile Ridge; however, Horner claimed the curfew is not being obeyed. He said he has been in contact with school board officials concerning Antero. He said he spoke to a trucker, via CB radio, who informed Horner that he didn't work for Antero and didn't run a curfew.

Horner's argument was that if any industry personnel is working in that area, it is for Antero - whether the drivers are contractors or subcontractors.

Horner argued that most of the dump truck drivers expect him to pull over and stop, and yieled for them. He said sometimes there are five or six dump trucks in a row, going too fast.

School bus driver Mark Huggins, who operates a route on North Fork, said he tries to communicate with the oil and gas truck drivers, who then tell him that they didn't know there was a curfew.

Huggins said EQT formerly utilized an individual, known as the "EQT cop," who would stop every truck and inform drivers of the curfew. Huggins said this person is no longer in the area, and the next person who supposedly took over the job hasn't been seen. Huggins described the truck drivers as arrogant, becoming emotional as he emphasized, "There is not a truck driver anywhere that hauls anymore valuable cargo than a school bus."

Another concerned citizen said she called the sheriff's department one morning, because a school bus was almost hit in front of her house. She said if her little girl had been getting on or off the bus, the situation would have been very bad. She said there are no speed limit signs posted in her neighborhood; therefore, she understands the speed limit is 55 miles-her-hour, which she described as too fast for her road.

The woman said the curfew has to be enforced at all times, especially when school buses are operating. "This is out of control," she said.

Another resident expressed concern about the condition of the road. She said roads are deteriorating due to local traffic and heavy traffic with the oil and gas trucks. She said she wants the road restored to its original condition, and she would like the road to be paved once construction workers leave the area.

The woman said she has been told there's another area where the road is slipping, and she would like that to be investigated. She went on to state, "I am assured by my local Department of Highways that there will be nothing done to the roads."

Another resident said the safety of the kids is most important. He said when the road is deteriorated, some of the truck drivers travel slower. However, since the roadway has been paved, the drivers are speeding and need to be slowed. He said on Route 20, drivers can sit in their vehicles for 30 to 45 minutes, waiting for trucks to load and unload equipment. He said he has worked for a pipeline company and knows it does not take that long to load or unload a dozer.

"If I were a gas or pipeline company, I would get rid of half of those guys," the man said.

Resident Bill Hughes stated that, over the years, he has probably done more than his share of complaining about some of these issues. However, he said he has also been inclined to compliment a few of the companies. Hughes said in particular, a few months ago when EQT was working on the Martin Pad on Route 7, he felt the company did an excellent job with managing traffic and escorting traffic. He said he never saw any congestion at the entrance to the Martin Pad. Hughes said EQT kept equipment in town and brought it to the area only when there was room.

Hughes said Southwestern Energy has always seemed to do a good job as well. However, he stated, "I hope eventually Antero might also follow their example."

Steve Conlon added a few comments as well. He referenced a particular situation in which the state police were part of the escort. Conlon said this was the most aggressive driving he has ever observed by an escort situation.

Marvin Murphy from the WVDOH stated there is a traffic plan, and the WVDOH is trying to put into place some of the area-specific requests to help protect traffic. He said the WVDOH is doing this already, and the local police will have to help do its part. Murphy said this has been addressed in the permits. He said the WVDOH will look at all the issues which have been described and will encourage the gas companies to handle the curfews properly. He said the WVDOH has had meetings in other counties that have issues curfews as well.

Wetzel County Sheriff Mike Koontz said he agrees with what was being said about doing things in a safe manner. He said law enforcement has not been able to enforce the curfews because they have always been voluntary. He said the sheriff's office is doing what it can to make the gas companies operate in a safe manner; for instance, whomever is on duty from 6-9 a.m. is to be on the roads and actively enforcing traffic violations, especially left-of-center and speeding, which are two chief complaints. The same standing order is in the afternoon. However, the department only has one, sometimes two, deputies working at a time. They also have other responsibilities; also, there are a lot of roads to travel.

Koontz said his office tries to address places specifically, when they get complaints.

Koontz agreed that everyone needs to try to work together and come to some resolution; he said a lot of it is going to depend on what the gas companies and their contractors do.

As to aggressive drivers, Koontz said there are also aggressive drivers from members of the community. He said he has also witnessed aggressive driving from the gas companies and pipeline employees. He said he realizes they have a job to do but also that the people who live here have a life to live and should be able to do that safely. Therefore, he said he hopes everyone can come to a resolution, and curfews can start being obeyed.

One representative, in response to Bill Hughes' comments, said her company had started a brake checking station in a specific area for every 18-wheeler.



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