Floodplain management is root of EQT suit against Doddridge Co. - Business, Government Legal News from throughout WV

Floodplain management is root of EQT suit against Doddridge Co.

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EQT Production Co.'s lawsuit against the Doddridge County Commission over a floodplain permit issued improperly then rescinded draws attention to the need in every county for knowledgeable floodplain management.

"It's very important that we have somebody that's qualified to read all these maps and do everything that's required for their position," said Doddridge County Commissioner Ralph Sandora.

The EQT permit to construct a gas well pad in a Doddridge County floodplain was issued in November by County Commissioner Jerald Evans, serving also as county floodplain coordinator.

Evans was not trained in floodplain management, Sandora said.

Landowners had concerns about flooding that might follow upstream from EQT's plan to raise the site elevation. They presented photographs of past floods at the site to the April meeting of the Doddridge County Commission, which also serves as Floodplain Appeals Board.

The commission ordered the permit rescinded.

EQT, which has said it spent $300,000 in site work, filed suit in circuit court in May to regain the permit.

Floodplain coordinators in W.Va.

To participate in the National Flood Insurance Program, a political entity has to have a floodplain ordinance that has been approved by the Federal Emergency Management Administration.

Every county in the state has a floodplain coordinator to administer its ordinance, according to engineer and West Virginia Floodplain Management Association co-founder and Secretary Jerry Gilbert, as does nearly every incorporated village, town or city.

Any development in a FEMA-designated 100-year floodplain has to be permitted through a floodplain coordinator. That includes concrete pads or other structures as well as fill and stream crossings.

A gas producer who thinks its proposed site might be in a floodplain should contact the county or municipality to find out if a permit is needed.

In Monongalia County, Floodplain Coordinator Mike Paugh's office requires what he called "a complete mock-up" showing what will be developed and illustrating how the 100-year flood elevation will be preserved.

"In the drilling instance, it's mostly a concrete pad with some temporary structures that can be removed, so the course of water is going to flow over that pad, through the equipment and keep going on," he said. "Technically you're not altering the 100-year flood elevation and you have to show that you're not going to alter it."

For many West Virginia streams, flood studies have never been done, he said, so his office also asks the company to have a "hydrologic and hydraulic" study completed to accurately determine the 100-year flood elevation.

Awareness of permit improving

Industry and agency awareness of floodplain permitting requirements is improving, Paugh said.

The WVDEP's Office of Oil and Gas does not require gas producers to submit copies of floodplain permits with their gas well drilling permit applications for sites proposed in floodplains.

However, the OOG does check flood maps. If an operator is proposing to work in a floodplain and has not included a copy of the floodplain permit, the agency contacts the operator about the need to obtain a permit, according to WVDEP spokesman Tom Aluise.

OOG also places its own special conditions on operations in floodplains.

"If they're in a floodplain and the operator hasn't already proposed it, we will require certain conditions such as placing protective cages around the wellhead to protect from debris, chaining down or elevating production equipment, relocating impoundments or only drilling during certain months of the year," Aluise said.

Importance of training

In Doddridge County, Evans has stepped down as floodplain coordinator. The county now has an interim floodplain coordinator and is considering combining the position with the director of the Office of Emergency Services, Commissioner Sandora said.

EQT will not say, with litigation pending, how far it will pursue its lawsuit or what it might cost the county.  

The lawsuit points highlights the very real risks of inadequate floodplain management to a political entity, to its landowners and to those who conduct business in it.

"You're dealing with insurance questions and obviously reviewing and managing different types of permits and building plans and you really need to know the ins and outs of the floodplain process," Paugh said.

While the state does not require the Floodplain Manager certification Paugh and some other coordinators have achieved, the Legislature did, thanks in part to the cooperative efforts of the WVFMA and the West Virginia Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, pass a bill during the last regular session to require floodplain coordinators to have six hours of continuing education each year.

"I think it's unique. I don't know of any other state that has that," Gilbert said.

Paugh believes this will meet an important need.

"The governor and Legislature realized that training and education are just essential for us to do our job," he said.

For more information about floodplain management in West Virginia, visit the web site of the West Virginia Floodplain Management Association or the West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management floodplain management web page.

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