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
We are on Facebook
On Twitter: @appchronicle
Organizations and individuals fighting Dominion and its partners express satisfaction, but caution that the battle is far from decided
By Michael M. Barrick
CLARKSBURG, W.Va. – Opponents to the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) are expressing delight about a decision by the United States Forest Service (USFS) to reject the proposed ACP route because it would jeopardize what the USFS calls “sensitive resources.”
Despite the decision, opponents are also advising caution, saying that it could only delay, but not stop, the proposed 550-mile natural gas pipeline that is a project of Dominion Resources, based in Richmond, Va., and its partners, including Duke Energy of Charlotte, N.C. As currently proposed, the ACP would originate in Harrison County, W.Va. and terminate in southeastern North Carolina. Ultimate approval for the ACP will be up to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
For now, though, the USFS decision has put the brakes on the proposed route.
In a letter and attachment to Leslie Hartz of Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC, USFS officials explained the decision and provided an “Assessment of Inconsistencies with Forest Plan Direction and Other Directives.” The letter was signed by Kathleen Atkinson of the USFS Eastern Region and Tony Tooke of the Southern Region.
Hartz and Tooke wrote, “We have determined that the proposed route does not meet minimum requirements of initial screening criteria … .” They explained, “The Land and Resource Management Plans for the Monongahela and George Washington National Forests contain standards and guidelines to protect highly sensitive resources, including Cheat Mountain salamanders, West Virginia northern flying squirrels, Cow Knob salamanders, and red spruce ecosystem restoration area.”
They continued, “Therefore, alternatives must be developed to facilitate further processing of the application.” They directed, “The status of the species in terms of risk for loss of viability on the National Forests, consistency with protections in the Forest Plans and other directives, and the uniqueness of ecosystems such as the spruce ecosystem restoration areas must be considered in the development of alternatives.”
Among the most vocal opponents to the ACP have been residents of Nelson County, Va. Marilyn Shifflett of Free Nelson said, “Those of us in opposition to the ACP have been extremely impressed at the work the USFS has done on this project for many months now. They have worked tirelessly to insure that regulations are followed and key sensitive areas are protected for future generations.” She cautioned, however, that citizens remain concerned about FERC’s review. “We remain hopeful that the FERC will take the USFS’s concerns seriously and that FERC Commissioners will review all of the USFS submissions by taking one step further, and consider the sensitive areas adjoining National Forest lands with a more critical eye. We have seen similar misrepresentations and incompleteness in the Resource Reports submitted for the ACP’s formal application and we will continue to ask that the FERC review these submissions very carefully.”
Friends of Nelson President Joanna Salidis offered, “We greatly appreciate the Forest Service’s tenacity in ensuring that federal laws and regulations pertaining to our national forests are enforced. We are grateful that they are working to protect the biodiversity, water, and recreational resources that so many people depend on. We are thrilled about the difficulty and delays the necessity of coming up with a new route will likely cause Dominion.” She, too, expressed concerns about the FERC review, saying, “We also note that the Forest Service’s advocacy for our public property highlights the absence of a similar watchdog agency for private property and impacted communities and individuals. The rest of us are left with FERC, bought and paid for by the industry.”
Jared M. Margolis, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity who focuses on the impacts of energy development on endangered species, said, “We are very pleased that the USFS has agreed that the project as proposed would have adverse impacts on vital habitat areas for imperiled species, including the Cow Knob salamander, which the Center has proposed for listing under the Endangered Species Act, as well as habitat for the Cheat Mountain salamander, which is listed as threatened.”
He added. “While the Forest Service stated that alternative routes must be found to avoid these sensitive habitats, it found that the route variations that have been proposed do not resolve the concerns. It therefore remains unclear whether alternative routes are even possible through this region that would not have such unacceptable impacts.”
He was also blunt in his assessment of the ACP. “This pipeline would be an unmitigated disaster for rare wildlife like the Cow Knob salamander, and would intensify climate disruption by increasing fracking and continuing our reliance on fossil fuels. While it is heartening to see the Forest Service step up to ensure that vital habitats on the George Washington National Forest are protected, we do not need alternative routes for this project. What we need is to stop creating dirtier fossil fuel infrastructure and keep it in the ground.”
Elise Keaton with the Greenbrier River Watershed Association insisted, “This would not have happened but for the constant work of citizen groups and coalitions forcing the Forest Service to conduct more stringent reviews of these proposed routes.” She added, “My hope is that the other national forests that are projected to be impacted by the Mountain Valley Pipeline will follow suit in protecting critical habitat. Further, the cumulative impact of two export pipelines through these parts of the state need to be reviewed to determine if they are at all necessary.”
Keaton concluded, “This decision is positive in that it reflects the Forest Service’s willingness to protect the ecology within the National Forest which many residents of West Virginia and Virginia have worked hard to preserve. However, re-routing the proposed pipeline through another area does not necessarily mean that these same species won’t be impacted.”
Allen Johnson of West Virginia-based Christians for the Mountains shared, “I am surprised, but pleasantly so, by the decision of the U.S. Forest Service to protect the very sensitive areas of the northern flying squirrel, sensitive streams, and a tremendous 2,000 feet vertical climb over and down Cheat Mountain.” He admitted, “I tend to be jaded by politics and felt the USFS would roll over for the pipeline.”
He warned, however, “On the other hand, the likely alternative route would be very close to where I live, within three miles at some point, I think. It would still transgress some of the Monongahela and George Washington National Forests, and would also impact more private landholders. At this point, the alternative routes have had little public input, so I would push for another FERC scoping process.”
Executive Director Angie Rosser of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition shared, “This decision affirms that the USFS is taking their responsibility to protect sensitive resources and endangered species seriously. The ecological significance of the headwaters and forested land in this region cannot be overstated. We celebrate the Forest Service stepping in to defend it.”
Still, Rosser argued, “It’s not over. Dominion will undoubtedly look to alternative routes and there will be the same important questions to examine about forest fragmentation, headwater streams, rare species habitat, and more. And the big questions remain in the context of several proposed pipelines in this region – is there a need for them all, and what would be the cumulative impact to this special area of the country?”
April Keating, the chairperson of Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance, a grass roots movement in several central West Virginia counties, shared, “This is certainly a necessary first step in protecting our communities from gas infrastructure buildout, and shows that our forest service is on the ball and watching. Having a federal agency backing up what the citizens have been saying is also encouraging.”
Yet, she added, “I do not think environmental arguments are going to be enough to stop, slow, or re-route the pipelines. Though the threat to our environment is real from this industry, we have to make sure our public officials and agencies consider all the effects on our communities: public health and safety, economic drag, slowed progress in renewable energy development, protection of historical resources, and even things like cultural attachment. There is a strong connection between the water and public health, but somehow public officials don’t see the emergency such projects constitute.”
She argued, “Citizen action in West Virginia is the only way we are ever going to see progress in a ‘business as usual’ state whose economy has always been based on extraction. It is time to diversify the economy, do something new. The job opportunities are plentiful, if we could only get our leaders to see it. Some days I am discouraged, some hopeful, but in the end, I believe our efforts will push us forward, if only a tiny bit, and that in itself is progress.”
Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC) Executive Director Janet Keating remarked, “OVEC is pleased that the U. S. Forest Service has rejected the proposed route of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline through the Monongahela National Forest because of concerns over the impacts upon the Cow Knob salamander as well as the restoration efforts for the northern flying squirrel. Yet our concerns regarding this massive pipeline don’t end here.” She explained, “This issue is about much more than unique salamanders and flying squirrels. The larger issues that loom are not only the direct threats to our forests and attenuate wildlife – and private property impacted by the construction of this massive pipeline – but also how building this infrastructure promotes more drilling for deep shale gas and oil, which increases the risks associated with climate change. The overarching concerns that FERC, other government entities and all our politicians should have are the threats that continued use of fossil fuel extraction and burning has upon the very existence of humans, other life on earth and our home, planet earth.”
She asked, “Why should West Virginia’s politicians allow our state to bear all the environmental costs, especially threatening our precious and vital water resources, for the construction of the ACP and then ship natural gas to North Carolina or overseas? Beyond short-term economic gain, how do people here really benefit?” She concluded, “It’s time for our state and nation to get serious about clean, renewable energy and energy efficiency, approaches to energy production that create jobs, decreases risks to human health and water, and stems the tide on climate change.”
OVEC’s Project Coordinator Vivian Stockman added, “It’s great news that the Forest Service has denied ACP’s application for a Special Use Permit based on endangered species and ecological health. Now, ACP will have to propose a new route or system alternatives. Now, we need to consider human health. We say there’s no proposed route that will protect communities, air, water and land.
“We simply don’t need this pipeline. We don’t need to waste all the money on shoring up fossil fuel infrastructure. We say the alternative, for the sake of human and planetary health, is decentralized renewable energy.”
© Michael M. Barrick, 2016.
We are on Facebook
On Twitter: @appchronicle
Hands Across Our Land is a grassroots gathering scheduled for August 18
By Michael M. Barrick
NELSON COUNTY, Va. – A grassroots uprising among people from across Appalachia opposed to the development of further natural gas infrastructure and the related extractive process of fracking will culminate on Tuesday, Aug. 18th at communities in Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina and beyond in an event being called “Hands Across Our Land.”
Sharon Ponton, co-chair of Free Nelson, a grassroots group in Virginia fighting the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP), says her organization is one of many planning events for that day. “The purpose of Hands Across Our Land is to show solidarity and unity among the hundreds of grassroots groups fighting new fossil fuel infrastructure, whether it’s a pipeline, a well pad, an export terminal or a compressor station,” said Ponton.
In addition to opposing the proposed ACP, Free Nelson and other groups – especially in Virginia and West Virginia – are also opposing the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP). Ponton explained, “By participating together on this one day, we believe we can gain national media attention to the plight of thousands upon thousands of landowners and communities across the country fighting these same battles. We want others to be part of the first nationwide grassroots action against new fossil fuel infrastructures.”
The action, which is being promoted by the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, and Beyond Extreme Energy, is intended to be a collection of local actions. “We need to all stand together, in our own communities, literally holding hands with our neighbors but also symbolically holding hands with those in other communities and states. We are asking that local groups gather at a fracking site, pipeline site or some local monument that symbolizes a community’s value and hold signs saying that they stand with their neighbors in other communities and states. Perhaps they can stand at a county line and join hands with their neighbors in that way.”
In Nelson County, Va., where Ponton lives, the Blue Ridge Parkway and Virginia’s Skyline Drive join to form one of the most scenic drives in all of the United States. “We are standing up for our heritage and culture in rural America,” said Ponton. “We are uniting to stop the industrialization of our communities from companies that put profit before people. Our streams our being polluted, our homes and land are being taken through the misuse of eminent domain, and the health and lives of our families and communities are at risk.”
She continued, “The fossil fuel industry will destroy thousands of acres of forested land, pollute water and the air, harm our local economies, degrade our national treasures such as the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Appalachian Trail and historical Native American areas. All of this destruction would occur in the name of profit.”
Ponton calls upon local groups to plan an event, promote it through social media, send any plans or comments to her for distribution to national media and use the hashtag phrase #HandsAcrossOurLand.”
To learn more, contact Ponton at email@example.com.
A Dirty Dozen Reasons to Oppose Fracking
Fracking Poses Threats to Public Health
Health and Well-Being of Residents Being Subordinated to Fracking Industry
Pipeline Lawsuits Threaten Sacredness of Appalachia
FERC Challenged to be Truly Independent
Natural Gas Industry Moves from the Absurd to the Profane
© The Appalachian Preservation Project, 2015. The Appalachian Chronicle is a publication of the Appalachian Preservation Project. If you find this writing of value, we hope that you will consider support our independent work by becoming a member of the Appalachian Preservation Project. You can learn more here. By doing so, you will be supporting not only this website, but also our other outreaches, programs and partnerships.
We are on Facebook
On Twitter: @appchronicle