Columbia Pipeline reps meet with visitors at Smithville forum

By Bob Weaver

Columbia Pipeline held a community informational meeting Thursday at the Smithville Elementary School regarding their proposed $2 billion 165 mile Mountaineer Xpress 36" pipeline which stretches across the region.

A map and press release from Columbia Pipeline indicated the pipeline would cross Calhoun for a few miles in northern Calhoun, with a $100 million compressor station to be located in the Coal Fork area in Calhoun next to the Ritchie County line.

Scott Castlemen, manager of Columbia external communications for Columbia, said line locations and the building of at least three compressor stations are still up in the air, and that final decisions would not be made before March, 2016.

While company representatives have informally approached the Calhoun commission president, president of the Calhoun Board of Education and the Calhoun Assessor regarding tax breaks related to the location of the compressor station in Calhoun, the company says the compressor station location has nothing to do with what county gives the biggest tax break.

Counties have no declaratory power regarding the location of pipelines.

In a general press release regarding Columbia Pipeline's proposed White Oak compressor station, the company has said it will be located in Calhoun or Ritchie Counties, but the company initially assured local officials that it would be built in Calhoun, with the station located on a map released for public information.

The compressor station appears to require about 20 acres.

"We are not pitting Calhoun County and Ritchie County against one another for a better tax break," said Brittany Carns Manager, Community Relations & Stakeholder Outreach, although the company has been proposing major tax breaks related to location.

The Jackson County commission has reportedly signed on to a significant tax break for locating a compressor in their county.

Carns said, "Ritchie County is mentioned in references to the White Oak Compressor Station because the Calhoun property we have identified is very close to the county line. In fact, it is so close that an access road to the facility might cross through Ritchie to reach our facility in Calhoun. There is only a small possibility that if a line adjustment needs to be made, then we would have to shift the location to Ritchie County."

Calhoun Commission president Chip Westfall said, "The compressor station would boost the counties revenues and really help the school system. Any deal reducing taxes would have to balance short term gain with the added cost and expenses that the addition of the compressor to the counties tax base would cause."

The benefit for a county commission in agreeing to tax breaks would mean early payment of taxes by the company.

The compressor, if built in Calhoun, would raise the current tax classification upwards from Class 9, with regular taxation or with a tax break, but with regular taxation the revenue should cover the increased costs.

With a tax break, at some point the money from Columbia probably won't cover the increase.

Commissioner Kevin Helmick said, "While the county certainly needs a tax boost to operate, including Calhoun schools, we would tend not to agree to tax breaks, and get the usual and customary taxes when they are due."

Commission president Chip Westfall said the company proposed a 10% tax break, but then the tax break request was increased to 40%.

A Columbia spokesperson, at the Smithville public meeting said, "Everything is undecided, the lines could be moved around in addition to the three new compressor stations."

A longtime natural gas producer, not affiliated with Columbia Pipeline, told the Hur Herald, "Columbia will do what is in their best interests."