Meeting Airs Concerns Over Roads And Use
The roads in northeast Wetzel County have always been narrow and windy. For years the condition of the roads has been deteriorating since large oil and gas drilling trucks started traveling on them.
Residents forced to deal with the vehicles have formed the Silver Hill Action Group and the Wetzel County Action Group to address the road conditions as well as safety concerns.
On Friday, a combined meeting of the groups invited representatives of all related parties, including residents, Chesapeake Energy officials, Marshall and Wetzel county sheriff’s departments, state legislators, and the West Virginia Department of Highways to discuss their concerns, answer questions, and try to find solutions to the problems.
Raymond Renaud, a member of both action groups, explained to the group of 50 at the Silver Hill Volunteer Fire Department that local residents recognized truck drivers crossing into oncoming lanes on blind turns “don’t have a choice.” It is necessary in order for such large rigs to navigate the turns. What the groups want is for contracted truck drivers hauling for Chesapeake Energy to abide by agreements the company has made to make things tolerable.
Some of those agreements are not driving in bad weather, not driving in the opposite direction while school buses are on the roads, and applying for permits for oversized loads to travel in the area.
“We have to put the emphasis on Chesapeake,” he said. “The bigger the trucks you run, the more you damage our roads. Speeding is another issue. They are also asking us to pay costs that they should be paying.”
It was also brought up that real estate values have decreased.
“It is much harder to sell property when you don’t have the mineral rights,” he said.
Randy Orsburn, chief land manager for Chesapeake Energy, said, “We’re taking steps to deal with you all, but we do have problems. We are failing, but we’re doing better.”
For example, he cited creating ponds and installing waterlines to reduce the number of water tankers needed.
Renaud asked Sen. Larry Edgell, D-Wetzel, for his assistance in getting the agreements, his group has with Chesapeake, being made law.
“If these voluntary agreements are reasonable, why can’t we have them incorporated into state regulations?” Renaud said.
Edgell replied, “We just can’t go down there and pass a law any time we want to.” Renaud responded, “We just want you to get the ball rolling. . . One of the key issues is the permitting process.”
He expressed the need for those issuing permits to take into consideration if the infrastructure, for where the permit is being issued, can support the activity.
“I have a feeling we have a large number of oversized activity,” he said.
Wetzel County Prosecuting Attorney Tim Haught told the group county deputies could not be in the area all the time because of other calls. He also said he felt the Public Service Commission should have a greater responsibility for issuing citations for oversized loads and suggested they set up scales on the road.
“It’s real hard for deputies to enforce. Having deputy sheriffs out here will be spotty at best,” he said.
An Arvilla Oilfield Services employee said they have had trucks stopped by the PSC three times since April but they have not received any tickets.
“Maybe you’re not seeing any citations because our people are being good,” said Steve Mossor, operations/construction for Chesapeake.
When talk turned to the condition of the roads, Renaud questioned some particular projects in the past year where the contracted improvements were not carried out to DOH specifications.
“If it wasn’t done, I’m disappointed,” said Lloyd Adams, maintenance engineer for the DOH District 6 of a project where pile driving was allegedly not installed far enough past the existing roadway.
Another issue of paving over inadequately prepared bed was an issue Adams knew about. He said they did not have enough people to prepare the road properly, so they will fix it in the spring and it probably won’t cost much more.
The secondary roadways such as W.Va. 89 are not expected to get the kind of traffic they are experiencing. However, Adams said the DOH is working with Chesapeake and they have been cooperative. “Chesapeake has been a very good partner to work with out here,” noted Adams.
In fact, Orsburn said Chesapeake has cinder piles and a spreader truck to try to help out the DOH in treating area roadways when the weather makes travelling difficult.
The Department of Highways has a mechanism called a Chargeable Maintenance Report (CMR) that evaluates roadways before, during, and after heavy traffic by a certain company. That, said Adams, is still the best way to alleviate any problems caused by excessive road use.
“I don’t think there is enough money in the United States to do what we need and would like to do,” said Adams.
Following the session, Renaud said he felt the meeting was positive.
“Everyone needs to be on the same page. This is the key,” he said.
Stacey Brodak, manager of Corporate Development for Chesapeake Energy, agreed.
“I think constant communications is key. Whenever we talk about issues it helps,” she said.
She also complimented Renaud for bringing in “key people” for the meeting.