EQT floodplain permit rescission upheld in Doddridge County - Business, Government Legal News from throughout WV

EQT floodplain permit rescission upheld in Doddridge County

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This photograph-based map shows EQT's proposed well site clearly in the floodplain. Courtesy of Jerry Gilbert. This photograph-based map shows EQT's proposed well site clearly in the floodplain. Courtesy of Jerry Gilbert.
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The Doddridge County Commission on July 3 upheld the April rescission of a floodplain permit previously granted to EQT.

"The EQT floodplain application filed on Nov 22, 2011 was approved the same day by Jerald Evans in his capacity as Doddridge County floodplain manager without a site visit," the commission, sitting as Floodplain Appeals Board, wrote in partial explanation of its July 3 decision.

"During the evolution of this process, the floodplain permit #0444 has expired," the commission wrote. "Thus, the Floodplain Appeals Board finds that the appeal of EQT is hereby denied for insufficient evidence that is mandated by the Doddridge County floodplain ordinance."

On the strength of its permit, the company had begun site work. It is now seeking relief.

Permit granted inappropriately

EQT holds a 1907 gas lease on 2,000 acres, for which Doddridge County resident Joye Huff is one of five mineral owners.

Huff also owns part of the surface and, because EQT wanted to put a wellpad on a floodplain on her property, it applied for and obtained a floodplain permit in November 2011 from County Commissioner and then-county Floodplain Manager Jerald Evans.

Following that, the company received a gas well permit from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection in February.

But then, at the April meeting of the county commission, local landowners raised concerns about the siting of the wellpad. 

Evans had stated on the permit that the site was not in the floodplain, landowners pointed out, but photographs showed otherwise.

While a recording of the meeting also indicates that the state Federal Emergency Management Administration office had become involved, that office was unavailable to return a call for this story because of current storm clean-up efforts.

Commissioners Shirley Williams and Ralph Sandora instructed Evans on April 17 to rescind the permit, and it was rescinded on April 18.

EQT sues

In May, EQT filed suit in Doddridge County Circuit Court.

The permit had been rescinded unlawfully, the company said, and adequate notice was not provided for the appeal of the permit as an agenda item, both actions causing irreparable harm and damage.  

The company has said elsewhere that it had spent $300,000 in site work.

EQT sought a temporary restraining order and preliminary and permanent injunctions to prevent the county commission from enforcing the rescission of the floodplain permit.

It also sought a temporary restraining order preventing the commission from holding a scheduled May 22 public hearing on the permit, arguing that such a meeting is not provided for in the county's floodplain ordinance.

The company pointed out that, because the 180-day permit would expire on May 22, that would leave it no opportunity to protect its interests.

And it sought temporary and permanent injunctions preventing the commission from holding any meetings regarding the permit until a timely and lawful appeal is filed.

Residents speak at hearing

The county commission held its May 22 public hearing on the permit.

Residents attending the meeting argued against the permit.

"If we adhered to the floodplain ordinance, that permit should never have been issued," said resident Diane Pitcock.

"The only time you should use the floodplain is if there are no alternative sites," Pitcock said. "This woman has 640 acres of alternative sites."

Pitcock expressed concern that, if the county violates its floodplain ordinance, that might make it ineligible for FEMA disaster relief in the event of a flood.

Others argued that, even if EQT's due process was violated, that was not justification for re-issuing the permit.

Next steps

"Nothing in this ruling prohibits EQT from filing a second application for a permit in the floodplain," the commission wrote in its decision.

WBOY-TV in Clarksburg reported July 3 that Commissioner Sandora said he believes the commission will face EQT in court.  

EQT spokeswoman Natalie Cox said the company will not comment while litigation is pending.

If EQT decides to reapply, the decision will be in the hands of interim Floodplain Coordinator Dan Wellings. 

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