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Groups Meet On Road Concerns

By ART LIMANN

POSTED: December 20, 2008 in the Wheeling News/Register

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 - many of them oversized and overweight - 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 that local residents recognized truck drivers crossing into oncoming lanes on blind turns "don't have a choice." 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 while school buses are on the roads, and oversized loads applying for permits 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 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." 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.

Some truck drivers said some stops had been made, but no tickets were issued because they were in compliance.

Lloyd Adams, maintenance engineer for the DOH District 6, told the group, "I don't think there is enough money in the United States to do what we should do and would like to do."

He said the DOH is working with Chesapeake and they have been cooperative.

In addition, Adams noted the concerns and said he had been taken on some of the local roads in question and "was not happy." He said the district would contact Chesapeake and these roads would be addressed. He also said the district has a lack of salt for the roads and said efforts are being made to reduce the use of salt.

Shortages of salt, all around the area, have forced District 6 to purchase salt from as far away as Chili for $140 per ton.

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.