MORGANTOWN — Regardless of your personal schedule, if you live on the two-mile stretch of Fort Martin Road (County Road 53) between the Monongahela River and the Longview Power Plant, your day begins around 4:30 a.m.
That’s about the time a continuous parade of dump trucks begin running that short circuit, taking barge-delivered coal from a riverside loading facility up the rural, country road to the 700 megawatt high efficiency, low emissions power plant.
Engines strain loudly against the weight when the trucks are full. With every pothole a thunderous slam of bed on frame when the trucks are empty. Jake brakes a hundred times a day.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
The $2.2 billion power plant came to fruition through a 2008 payment in lieu of taxes (PILT) agreement with the Monongalia County Commission. Under that deal, Longview agreed to annual payments to the county and board of education instead of paying actual property taxes. Those payments, which increase annually, were scheduled over 30 years and are based on the yearly levy rates set by the county and BOE.
Impact to local residents would be minimal, it was explained, because the coal would be belt fed directly from a nearby mine into the plant.
That mine closed last fall. A short time later, the trucks began.
Margaret Batton appeared before the county commission to make two predictions last October after learning the trucks were coming. One, Fort Martin Road couldn’t tolerate the kind of heavy traffic — both in size and frequency — the coal trucks would place on it. And two, the residents wouldn’t tolerate the trucks.
She returned this past week to confirm she was right on both accounts.
“You can see from those photos the many, many trucks on that road. It’s constant. It isn’t like one truck every minute. It’s like 15 trucks, one right after another, every minute. It’s like a caravan. That’s the only way I know how to describe it to you,” she said. “Anyone can see that road is crumbling. You can also see how filthy the trucks are. Everything within 15 feet of the road on both sides is black.”
Longtime Fort Martin Road resident Eddie Cogar lives about halfway between the riverside loading facility and the plant. He said his quality of life, much like that of his neighbors, has been dramatically impacted by the trucks, which, he said, can run as late as 9 p.m.
“The road is going to be totally gone. It’s almost a one-lane road now. If you meet someone coming at you, you’ve got to stop and let them go around you so you can get around the holes and the ruts,” Cogar said. “The worst part is all the dirt they’re dragging off the coal. Your yard, everything, is black. I thought grass was supposed to be green, but here it’s not.”
Cogar said he keeps a special pair of boots in the garage for trips to the mailbox — one of many similar precautions taken by the plant’s neighbors.
Batton said she and her husband use a power washer to spray off their car before entering the garage to try to keep coal dust out of their home.
More troubling, she said, is word that additional trucks could be coming as a permit has been requested that would allow the hauling of coal ash through that area.
She asked the commission to assist the residents who are already dealing with the noise, the traffic, the road conditions and the dust caused by the trucks.
“As a community, we would like to know what our rights are and where we can get assistance in dealing with this,” Batton said. “We are part of Mon County also. This would not be tolerated anyplace else in the county, and we’re looking to our county commissioners to help solve this problem.”
Commission President Tom Bloom said the commission has reached out to the West Virginia Division of Highways (DOH) multiple times about Fort Martin Road and will continue to do so.
But beyond advocating on the residents’ behalf, Commissioner Ed Hawkins said, there’s likely little direction action the commission can take.
“I know the commission did have a great hand in the formation of Longview. The omission, however, of any concrete agreements that did not arise for upkeep and upgrades … It just wasn’t thought that this road was going to receive that heavy use, and unfortunately, it did. We take your comments to heart,” Hawkins said, adding that the commission will try to intercede, “But I can’t promise a resolution here because it is a road.”
Both Batton and Cogar said Longview has reached out to residents in the area about coming together for a community meeting later this month to address some of the issues.
“I’m sure we all plan on attending that. I certainly do,” Cogar said.
Commissioner Sean Sikora said the commission also has a meeting coming up with representatives of Longview.
“This is an issue that’s been kind of thrust on the residents of that area and we do appreciate that. One of the things our administrator mentioned, when we talk to the owners of Longview, we can mention that we may take this farther, to the EPA or DEP,” Sikora said.
Sikora later added, “Again, this isn’t something that was planned, but they really need to be a better community partner. It doesn’t fall on deaf ears.”
Longview CEO Jeff Keffer was unable to provide comment in time for this report but scheduled a time to discuss, among other things, “major commitments Longview has made with respect to Route 53.”