The Exponent Telegram
As Atlantic Coast Pipeline developers spar with environmental groups and property owners over land rights and the short- and long-term implications of the pipeline, some state residents see the project differently. For some, like Jason Knicely, the project is an opportunity to revitalize the state’s economy and provide jobs where the market has been lagging.
From the article:
"Buckhannon native Jason Knicely was earning a living at a small local business. He supplemented that income with various side jobs, including mowing grass, detailing and providing rides in a borrowed limousine to people celebrating a special occasion or had a few too many drinks.
Things changed for Knicely in a chance encounter at the 88 Restaurant and Lounge in Buckhannon in late March or early April. Knicely had stopped for dinner after work and ran into friends from the community. Those friends were dining with people from Michels Corporation, contractors for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
He told the group to let him know if they were ever in need of a designated driver. As it turned out, one of the men needed a ride that evening.
“I asked him if I could mow their yard out here on Brushy Fork Road,” he said.
The man responded by referring Knicely to a representative of Teamsters Local 175, one of four unions project developers rely on to find workers for the pipeline project.
Soon, Kniceley was training for a pipeline job. He started his new job for Michels May 28.
“I’m the parts runner,” he said. “I go out and get parts for the equipment here, there and yonder. I go all over.”
The pay is about three times what he was making in his previous job, he said. Most of that, he said, is going into a savings account, and he hopes to buy a house with his earnings. For now, he would like to stay in West Virginia.
The pay scale is an afterthought for Kniceley, however.
Kniceley has largely outgrown health problems that plagued him as a child, but they remain on the 24-year-old’s mind even today. Each Christmas, he donates stuffed animals to children in the J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown.
For the man who spent much of his childhood battling health issues, it is the benefits package that makes the new job worth it.
“Something could always happen at my age,” he said.
It also provides experience and long-term opportunities for a new career, he said.
Pipeline officials claim the pipeline under development by Dominion Energy, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and Southern Company Gas will create 17,240 new jobs during the construction phase and support thousands more with new industries along the 600-mile corridor stretching from Harrison County to Robeson County, North Carolina.
The project has already put many West Virginians to work, according to Samantha Norris, communications specialist for Dominion Energy.
Workers are currently working on a contractor’s yard on Brushy Creek Road in Upshur County, and ground recently broke on another yard in Harrison County on Meadowbrook Road, according to Norris.
“We are continuing to work along right-of-ways in preparation of continuing to lay pipe,” she said.
Norris was unable to give an estimate on the number of people currently working on the project, but said a minimum of 50 percent of those hired to work in the state are West Virginians.
The jobs also help support other industries in the area, according to Harrison County Commission President Ron Watson.
“All you have to do is check out the hotels. I mean, they’re packed with people who are gainfully employed not only with that pipeline, but with the other pipeline services. The same way with the food vendors, restaurants and so on,” he said. “It can’t go on forever, but we take advantage of it while we’ve got it, and hopefully, something will replace that impact when it’s gone.”
In Doddridge County, officials have seen the economic effects of multiple pipelines that are under construction in the area.
“Early in the morning, trying to get onto Route 50, there’s an immense amount of traffic each way,” said Doddridge County Commission President Gregory Robinson. “It’s unbelievable ... the amount of traffic from people coming in to work.”
The Campgrounds have opened, including some in their residents’ yards, and are full most of the time, Robinson said.
The county government has benefitted, as well, he said.
“I have been a commissioner for 5 1/2 years. When I began, the budget was probably $5-6 million. The year that we’re just about to commence, our budget is about $12 million and the bulk of that has been generated by oil and gas,” he said.
The funds have allowed for the exterior renovation of the Doddridge County Courthouse and the commission is starting work to expand water infrastructure in the county, he said.
“The construction of the Atlantic Pipeline through the state of West Virginia is a tremendous boom economically both for our county, as well as our region,” said state Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison. Unfortunately, this boom, while dramatic and very much appreciated, is going to be short-lived. Once the pipeline is constructed, all those construction workers will no longer have any work, and the ones that come from out of state will leave. That economic impact will dissipate very quickly.”
According to Norris, construction jobs by nature are temporary, but the workers are gaining skills and experience that will be valuable even when pipeline construction is complete.
Trades like welding, she said, are valuable for more than just pipeline construction.
“It’s not a concern to me, because I’ll just find another job and move on after this one,” Knicely said.
The key for the state, according to Romano, will be finding a way to derive long-term benefits from the resource."
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