APC Seeks to Cut Trees for Pipeline Right-of-Way

by Duane Nichols on December 25, 2017

MERRY CHRISTMAS from Pipe Creek Tree Farm

Atlantic Coast Pipeline wants to start cutting down trees

From an Article by Robert Zullo, Richmond Times-Dispatch, December 22, 2017

Though it still lacks several key approvals, the Dominion Energy-led Atlantic Coast Pipeline project has asked federal regulators to allow workers to begin cutting down trees along some portions of the 600-mile route in West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina.

Dominion made the request with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last week.

Opponents are urging the commission to reject it, noting that permits for the project are missing or unfinished, as are effective water quality certifications from Virginia and North Carolina and stormwater plan approval from West Virginia.

Requests for reconsideration and stays by FERC are likewise still pending, among other objections raised in a filing submitted by the Southern Environmental Law Center in Charlottesville on behalf of more than a dozen conservation groups.

“At this point, it is unknown whether Atlantic will obtain all of the necessary approval and permits to move forward with its project,” the document says. “The commission must reject Atlantic’s attempts to cut corners and pre-empt state authority by denying the company’s premature request.”

Dominion says the workers will stay away from wetlands and waterways, will refrain from using heavy equipment, and will not remove stumps or roots that could lead to soil erosion. The cut timber will stay onsite until all other approvals have been obtained. And the chainsaw-wielding contractors will only cut trees on property that the company has secured access to via easement agreements with owners, said Dominion, which also has begun eminent domain proceedings against some landowners.

“We want to get as much of this work done as possible within the federal tree-felling window in order to protect migratory birds or bats or other sensitive species,” said Aaron Ruby, a Dominion spokesman. “FERC has a well-established process for authorizing this activity and we’re following the process.”

Before FERC can authorize the tree-cutting, however, Dominion must reach an executed agreement as required under the National Historic Preservation Act.

In October, the commission notified the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, an independent federal agency, that the project would have an “adverse effect” on four historic structures or districts and 10 archaeological sites along the route.

And though the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has issued an opinion finding that the project won’t jeopardize threatened or endangered species, pipeline opponents note that the agency is still consulting with Dominion on a rare fish, the candy darter, that could be affected by the pipeline construction.

Tamara Young-Allen, a FERC spokeswoman, said the commission usually delegates the request to begin cutting trees to the manager of the agency’s Office of Energy Projects, who will weigh whether to allow it to proceed based on a variety of factors, including whether easements and necessary permits have been obtained.

“It’s taken into consideration,” she said.


Dominion’s request to FERC includes supporting emails from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and state environmental agencies affirming that they do not regulate “tree felling in upland areas.”

However, the company failed to include a letter from North Carolina’s environmental agency warning Dominion that “your intention to fell trees is a land-disturbing activity” covered under requirements to obtain sediment and erosion approvals.

North Carolina has repeatedly asked Dominion for more information as it processes permits related to air quality for a compressor station and for erosion and sediment control plans. Though the erosion and sediment plans have been approved for part of the route, the plans for five other counties have not. Nor has the state issued a water quality certification for the project.

“If any land-disturbing activity related to this project, including felling trees, begins prior to receiving an approval … it will be considered a violation,” wrote William E. Toby Vinson Jr., chief of program operations at the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality.

What constitutes a land-disturbing activity can vary depending on which side of the state line the trees are cut.

James Golden, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s director of operations, wrote that the “felling of trees with chainsaws does not constitute a ‘man-made change to the land surface’ and therefore does not meet the definition of ‘land disturbance’” under Virginia law.

The state erosion and sediment control law defines land-disturbing activity as “any man-made change to the land surface that may result in soil erosion.” The stormwater management law defines it as “a man-made change to the land surface that potentially changes its runoff characteristics.”

In an email, Golden said that the “DEQ does not believe that the hand-felling of trees results in soil erosion or changes to the land-surface runoff characteristic and is therefore not considered land disturbance.”

But opponents question how cutting down trees could fail to affect the ground underneath, arguing that falling trees can gouge the ground and roll down slopes into waterways or topple nearby trees.

The law center’s filing, citing the DEQ’s own stormwater management handbook, notes that “interception,” the amount of rainfall that fails to reach the ground because it gets caught in the tree canopy and evaporates, plays a crucial role in reducing runoff.

“Clearing removes the vegetation that intercepts, slows and returns rainfall to the air through evaporation,” the handbook says, according to the filing.

“As Virginia DEQ has acknowledged, ‘raindrops hit the exposed soil like tiny bombs,’ ” the opponents argued, citing a DEQ document called “Fundamentals of Erosion and Runoff.”

Asked to respond to those contentions, Golden said he had no comment.

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WV Metro News January 22, 2018 at 11:27 pm

Crews to start felling trees for Atlantic Coast Pipeline

By Brad McElhinny in WV Metro News | January 22, 2018

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Tree felling is starting in West Virginia along the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s path.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission granted permission Friday to start limited, pre-construction tree felling, even though the project hasn’t yet attained all of its required environmental approvals.

Dominion Energy, which is developing the pipeline, announced that tree felling and vegetation clearing would begin within the next few days in West Virginia and Virginia. Activity in North Carolina is to begin after remaining state agency approvals are granted.

Dominion says the work will only be done on properties where agreements have been reached with landowners.

The company says none of the work will be done in wetlands, near waterbodies or in other areas that require additional federal and state permits. Tree felling will continue through the end of March.

“We will of course notify all landowners before beginning activity on their property,” the company stated in its announcement. The company says full construction is on track to begin in the spring and completion of the project in late 2019.

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline would deliver up to 1.5 billion cubic feet of Marcellus shale gas from West Virginia to customers in Virginia and North Carolina every day.

The project by Dominion Transportation Inc. would run the pipeline 600 miles, beginning in Harrison County through Virginia and into southeastern North Carolina.

The $5.1 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline would span 600 miles from Harrison County and across Lewis, Upshur, Randolph and Pocahontas counties in West Virginia.

The Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance, a coalition of more than 50 organizations in Virginia and West Virginia announced a citizen initiative to monitor construction activities of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

The initiative aims to ensure strict application of environmental laws and regulations, the coalition announced Monday.

Source: http://wvmetronews.com/2018/01/22/crews-to-start-felling-trees-for-atlantic-coast-pipeline/


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