Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC forced to adopt alternative route after U.S. Forest Service rejected recent proposal
By Michael Barrick
CLARKSBURG, W.Va. – The Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC (Atlantic) a subsidiary of Dominion Resources, Duke Energy, and others, has filed an alternate proposed route for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) with the United States Forest Service (USFS). The new filing comes after the USFS in January rejected the initial proposal brought by Atlantic. Originally planned at about 550 miles, this alternative would bring the total closer to 600 miles, including over some of the most impenetrable mountainous terrain in the eastern United States.
As currently proposed, the ACP would originate near here in Harrison County, and terminate in southeastern North Carolina. Ultimate approval for the ACP will be up to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
Once again, Dominion has proposed a route without thinking through or understanding the environmental and other consequences of its decision.” – Statement from Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance
However, ACP must first gain USFS approval because it wishes to build the pipeline through three national forests in West Virginia and Virginia – the Monongahela, the George Washington and the Jefferson. In rejecting ACP’s original proposal last month, and requiring that a new one be filed, the USFS said the route would cause harm to “ … highly sensitive resources, including Cheat Mountain salamanders, West Virginia northern flying squirrels, Cow Knob salamanders, and red spruce ecosystem restoration area.”
When submitting its alternative plan, Atlantic said, “The route will reduce total mileage in the national forests by more than one-third, from 28.8 miles to 18.5 miles.” It admitted, though, “The alternative route will impact approximately 249 new landowners in Randolph and Pocahontas counties in West Virginia, and Highland, Bath and Augusta counties in Virginia.”
It said also, “We are contacting landowners along the alternative route to request permission to survey their properties so the route can be thoroughly evaluated. Atlantic will submit a preliminary analysis of the route to the FERC next week, and plans to hold a series of public informational open houses along the route in early March.”
Opponents to the ACP, meanwhile, argue that the alternative proposal is no better, for numerous reasons.
Marilyn Shifflett of Free Nelson, in Nelson County, Va., said, “To have come forward with such a massive reroute so quickly after the USFS denied permit on the prior route speaks volumes about the lack of consideration for environmental impacts, and impacts to private property owners.” She continued, “The ACP’s new route is equally as devastating, if not more, than their prior route. A significant number of landowners have been impacted, with the hardest hit taken in Pocahontas County, West Virginia, and Bath and Augusta counties in Virginia.”
Rick Webb of the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition, also based in Virginia, responded, “Dominion fails to recognize … that the real issue is construction of a major pipeline through the greatest concentration of remaining wild lands, pristine streams, and intact ecosystems in the central Appalachian region.”
Webb added, “Although the newly proposed route would reduce impacts to certain species that are emblematic of this wild landscape, Dominion’s alternate route still involves significant forest fragmentation and fails to avoid environmental harm associated with construction across steep mountains and complex karst valleys. Moreover, Dominion is now proposing to build the pipeline along a path that was initially rejected for being too challenging and hazardous.”
He continued, “The proposed ACP is unprecedented with respect to pipeline size and the level of disturbance that will be required. There is no acceptable route for the ACP through the central Appalachian region. The proposed pipeline will be 42 inches in diameter, requiring excavation of an 8- to 12-foot-deep trench and the bulldozing of a 125-foot-wide construction corridor straight up and down multiple steep-sided forested mountains. It will require construction of heavy-duty transport roads and staging areas for large earth-moving equipment and pipeline assembly. It will require blasting through bedrock, and excavation through streams and wetlands. It will require construction across unstable and hydrologically sensitive karst terrain.”
Argued Webb, “Pipeline construction on this scale, across this type of steep, well-watered, forested mountain landscape, is unprecedented. It will be impossible to avoid degradation of water resources, including heavy sedimentation of streams, alteration of runoff patterns and stream channels, disturbance of groundwater flow, and damage to springs and water supplies. It will be impossible to avoid fragmentation and degradation of intact, high-integrity forests, including habitat for threatened and endangered species and ecosystem restoration areas”
A statement issued by the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance, also based in Virginia, noted, “The new alternative route for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline … avoids Cheat and Shenandoah Mountains but compounds the ecological harm that would ensue. By directing the pipeline further south in Pocahontas County, W.Va., into northern Bath County, Va. and then north through the Deerfield Valley in Augusta County, the route would traverse some of the most concentrated karst topography in the Allegheny region. A pipeline through this area would significantly increase the likelihood of catastrophic erosion and sediment pollution of several significant waterways. Furthermore, the new route opens up to potential devastation a whole new set of cultural and natural resources. The many newly affected landowners and local officials must be carefully consulted before the project should be allowed to continue with the FERC process.”
The group added, “Once again, Dominion has proposed a route without thinking through or understanding the environmental and other consequences of its decision.”
Tom Berlin, a farmer in Lewis County, W.Va., said that he believes, in the end, the ACP will be approved. “I think they will keep finding alternatives until they get the opposition worn down and FERC may make them jump through a few more hoops. Eventually, governors, representatives, and senators will decide that they have had enough and pressure FERC and the Forest Service to approve the project. There is the pressure of appropriations to get compliance. I feel that ACP will be built and we can only hope to minimize damage and get the best possible deal for local landowners.”
Dianna Gooding, a farmer in Gilmer County, W.Va., which neighbors Lewis County , offered, “First, the proposed alternative I believe is the original route that was also opposed early on, and that it was decided that the terrain was too steep, too rocky etc., and disrupted too many landowners. The overall impact will be just as bad if not worse and will of course affect many more private landowners.” She shared also that while the Stonewall Gas Gathering line was being constructed last year, a supervisor with one of the involved companies said “… they had made plenty of mistakes, the terrain was something they had never worked in before, and they were flatlanders primarily. They had many, many issues, and the other companies were not knowledgeable either about building such large lines in the terrain. …”
Senior Attorney Greg Buppert with the Southern Environmental Law Center said, “Dominion has proposed a knee-jerk and ill-conceived adjustment to its favored route, rather than a solution that truly attempts to minimize the harm to this region. To prevent unnecessary impacts to our communities and environment, we must understand whether the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is truly needed to meet the regional demand for natural gas in light of the changes to existing pipelines that are already poised to bring more gas into Virginia,” He added, “The new route also raises fundamental questions of fairness. FERC must put the Atlantic Coast Pipeline on hold until the citizens of Bath County and other communities along the route have the same opportunities as others along the pipeline route to understand the project, evaluate its impacts, and make their voices heard.”
Ben Luckett, Staff Attorney with West Virginia-based Appalachian Mountain Advocates, stated, “This new route would still cause dramatic forest fragmentation through some of the most high-quality forest habitat in our region.” He added, “We’re disappointed Dominion would threaten a whole new set of Virginians and West Virginians when the pipeline is not even necessary to meet our energy needs.”
Concluded Shifflett, “Dominion will try to push this new route through quickly to maintain their construction schedule, and the FERC will likely not ask for a fair time frame for residents to respond, unless there is a massive public outcry. We need to continue our solidarity in West Virginia and Virginia to ensure that we are heard and a fair process is offered to every landowner.”
© Michael M. Barrick, 2016
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