With information trickling out on a proposed 427-mile gas pipeline that could begin near Bedford, county officials are pushing for a public meeting between corporate representatives and affected landowners.
The proposed Spectra Energy project - which would pump 1 billion cubic feet daily from Bedford to the Carolinas, by some measures enough to fuel 5 million homes - is still in its formative stages, but some in the county have said they want public meetings before a plan is set in stone.
"We're just trying to get them here to open up," Bedford County Commissioner Chairman Kirt Morris said Tuesday.
Since the proposal first reached the news media in May, Houston-based Spectra has released some basic information to the public. A new webpage for the project says the $4 billion line could be operational by late 2018.
The pipeline would begin at a compressor station along Route 220 near Bedford, snake through mountains and forests and cross the Maryland border en route to North Carolina, according to preliminary maps given to Bedford County landowners.
One of several corporate projects proposed in response to a North Carolina-based energy company's request, the Spectra line would carry fuel from the gas-rich Northeast to the growing Southern market.
But, while the project could be years away, landowners in Virginia and North Carolina have already expressed concerns about a pipeline crossing their farms and backyards, local media accounts show.
On its online project summary, Spectra said the work would create jobs and tax revenue in every state it touches. But before they dig the line and establish a 100-foot right-of-way, Spectra representatives must meet with homeowners, negotiate land-use deals and survey the terrain.
"They said they would be free to have a meeting before they do that surveying," Bedford County Planning Director Donald Schwartz said.
While a schedule isn't yet set, preliminary surveying could begin as soon as late summer, Spectra spokesman Arthur Diestel said Tuesday. Diestel said it's too early to say precisely what kind of meetings are planned, whether representatives speak with individual landowners or groups in public.
Schwartz said a Spectra representative expressed concerns about a public gathering, citing the prospect of protests or interference.
Representatives of the Evitts Creek Steering Committee, a group of Maryland and Bedford County officials responsible for a major watershed in the pipeline's likely path, invited Spectra staff to their meeting this week but don't expect Spectra to attend, Schwartz said.
"I think they're telling everybody the same thing: Until they make a final decision to do the project - a formal, final decision - I don't think they're going to address the public," he said.
If the project moves forward, right-of-way agents will probably meet with landowners in the pipeline's path and negotiate prices for land use, according to a Spectra Energy fact sheet. The company can use the right of eminent domain to take land with compensation, the sheet says, but the process is used only as a last resort.
With a meeting not yet on the calendar and the pipeline not yet approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, much has yet to be done before contruction can begin.
Morris, however, said Spectra should address landowners publicly long before that happens.
"They say, 'It's still too early in planning.' Well, that's when they need (public meetings)," he said. "Now is the time that they need to get involved."
Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.