Wednesday, May 6, 2015

NRV Residents Express MVP Concerns

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) held a Scoping Meeting last night at the Eastern Montgomery High School in Elliston to solicit input about environmental concerns from residents along the route of the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline. Almost 400 people from around the New River Valley attended the meeting, and expressed serious concerns about the potential impact pipeline construction would have on the delicate eco-systems along the proposed route, as well as safety concerns posed by the high-pressure 42 inch gas pipeline.

Among those who spoke was Richard Caywood, assistant county administrator for Roanoke who expressed similar concerns to the other speakers. Caywood, speaking on behalf of Roanoke County, asked the FERC to hold similar meetings in Roanoke, and echoed a request by the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors to extend the public comment period by 90 days to give affected residents time to consider the impact of alternative routes recently proposed by the pipeline’s developers.

Martha Murphy, who is a member of the Craig County Board of Supervisors and an affected landowner also asked for more meetings, calling the current schedule “woefully inadequate”. She also noted that home construction and property development has slowed drastically due to uncertainty over the route of the pipeline, resulting in a drop in tax revenue for the county.

Not surprisingly, the overall view of those in attendance was in opposition to construction of the pipeline. As well as the environmental and safety issues addressed, some also spoke about the lack of benefit to those affected, particularly in light of the use of eminent domain to obtain the necessary right of way through landowners’ property. 

One speaker commented that she believed the “intersection of the Second Amendment and Eminent Domain will be a significant issue”, and another drew applause when she noted that “This is the stuff for which the Revolutionary War was fought”.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Residents Seek Extension of Mountain Valley Pipeline Comment Period

Montgomery County residents spoke out about the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline at last night’s Board of Supervisors meeting. Four people stood to address what they see as a lack of available information about the project, asking the Board to request a 90 day extension of the scoping comment period from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

According to Montgomery County resident Angela Stanton, who is one of the founding members of the group Preserve The New River Valley, argued that the newly identified alternative routes justify additional time for residents who might now find themselves on one of those routes to evaluate the impact it might have on them and to express their concerns to the FERC. Another resident told Board members he had just learned last week that the pipeline would pass within 100 feet of his house. Another point of concern is that the developers of the pipeline have not identified the exact location of the compressor station that will be built somewhere in Montgomery County.

Board members were very receptive to the concerns expressed by the residents and voted to pass a resolution calling for the FERC to grant the 90 day extension. Supervisor Chris Tuck noted that budget discussions were now over and that it was time for the Board to again take up the issue, and the Board agreed to do so during the work session of the May 11th scheduled meeting. Pipeline developers are scheduled to give the Board an update during the meeting on May 26th.

The FERC will host a regional scoping meeting on May 5th at Eastern Montgomery High School in Elliston to solicit input on an environmental impact statement relating to the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Speaker signup begins at 6 pm and the meeting begins at 7 pm.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Voting Machines Decertified Due to Security Issues

Win-Vote machine recently decertified over security vulnerabilities.

When the Virginia Board of Elections announced their decision to decertify all of the Win-Vote voting machines in the state, Montgomery County wasn’t caught flat-footed. According to Montgomery County Registrar Randall Wertz, although there have been no issues with the Win-Vote machines since they were first used in 2005, his office began phasing out the county’s 115 machines in 2012 in favor of a system that uses paper ballots and an optical scanner. Currently the Win-Vote machines are only needed to provide curbside service for disabled voters. After yesterday’s ruling by the State, the County will be forced to switch to a new method of providing curbside voting in order to remain ADA compliant.

The cost to the county of retiring these machines will still be significant, but not as bad as it will be for some of our neighbors. According to Wertz, the cost of replacing the machines still in use with an ADA compliant system known as the Unisyn OVI could be as high as $128,000. Thirty new machines will be needed at a cost of $4000 each, with additional costs related to needed accessories and supplies. Although this still represents a large expenditure for the County, it would have been much larger if all 115 of the decertified machines were still in use. Since there will be no June primary election the County will have until the November 3rd general election, but it will take time to acquire the machines and train all of the election officers on their use. 

“The Unisyn OVI machines are compatible with the Unisyn OVO machines we currently use,” Wertz explained. “Once a disabled person votes, it prints out a paper ballot that is then fed into the OVO scanner to record the vote”.

The decision to decertify the Win-Vote machines came despite a request by the Montgomery County Registrars office to allow the machines to continue in operation with the system’s Wi-Fi functions disabled. According to Wertz, the only security issues found involved the Wi-Fi functions that are only turned on after the polls close for vote consolidation purposes, and are not really necessary. “The machine can be modified to permanently disable the wireless functions,” he said. “The chip can be removed”.

The Registrar’s Office has requested a proposal from the manufacturer for the total cost of the new machines. The issue is expected to be taken up at the next regular meeting of the Board of Supervisors on April 27th.