UPDATE: Mountain Valley Pipeline Construction Active But Facing Challenges

by S. Tom Bond on April 27, 2019

Holden Dometrius arrested on Little Mountain near Lindside, WV

Mountain Valley Pipeline gets good & bad news on court challenges

From an Article by Laurence Hammack, Roanoke Times, April 24, 2019

A state regulation that delayed a key part of work on the Mountain Valley Pipeline — the crossings of more than 1,000 streams and wetlands in the two Virginias — has been revised in a way likely to benefit the project.

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection wrote in a letter Wednesday to federal regulators that it has modified about 50 conditions to permits issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

One of the conditions was that the pipeline needed to be built across four major rivers in West Virginia within 72 hours. The Army Corps improperly bypassed that rule when it issued what’s called a Nationwide Permit 12 to the natural gas project, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in throwing out the authorization in October.

Although several more steps need to be taken before water body crossings can resume, a revised condition doing away with the time restriction in certain cases was seen as a victory for Mountain Valley.

However, complications from another court challenge involving a different pipeline in Virginia led one of the five partners in the joint Mountain Valley venture to say this week that completion of the project by the end of this year now “appears unlikely.”

Rebecca Kujawa, chief financial officer of NextEra Energy Inc., made her comments in a report on first quarter results posted to the company’s website.

Construction of Mountain Valley, which began last year, is expected to ramp up in the coming months following a winter lull, Kujawa said. But she expressed concerns about a 4th Circuit decision last year that prohibited the Atlantic Coast Pipeline from crossing the Appalachian Trail.

The Mountain Valley pipeline would also cross the scenic footpath, and backers worry that the project could be jeopardized by the Atlantic Coast ruling. “We are continuing to work through options with our partners and will provide a further update in the near future,” Kujawa said.

Natalie Cox, a spokeswoman for Mountain Valley, said Thursday that there have been no announced changes to the company’s most recent goal of a late 2019 completion date.

“However, in light of the ongoing permit challenges, the window to achieve these targets is becoming more narrow,” she wrote in an email. “The team has been pursuing options and alternatives that would address the outstanding issues and, if realized within the next few months, would allow for” completion late this year.

When work on the 303-mile pipeline began a year ago, plans were to have it done by late 2018. As for the Nationwide Permit process, Cox said, the next step will be for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to review the modified conditions from West Virginia. Then the Army Corps will do the same.

Pipeline opponents were quick to react to the move, staging a protest early Thursday morning in which a man chained himself to equipment along the pipeline’s construction right of way in Lindside, West Virginia.

“To hell with your permits,” read a banner attached to a piece of welding equipment to which 22-year-old Holden Dometrius had locked himself, according to a news release from Appalachians Against Pipelines. After several hours of blocking work, Dometrius was removed by law enforcement officials.

The organization, which has been affiliated with more than dozen such blockades in West Virginia and Southwest Virginia, said the pipeline “endangers water, ecosystems, and communities along its route, contributes to climate change, increases demand for natural gas (and therefore fracking), and is entrenched in corrupt political processes.”

A clerk in the Monroe County Magistrate’s Court said Dometrius faces a felony charge of threatening terrorism and three misdemeanors: trespassing, obstruction and tampering with equipment. Dometrius, of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, was being held in jail in lieu of an $8,000 cash bond Thursday afternoon, the clerk said.

In October, the 4th Circuit vacated a Nationwide Permit 12 issued for a portion of the pipeline running through West Virginia. A legal challenge brought by the Sierra Club and other environmental organizations asserted that the Army Corps overlooked a requirement, imposed by the state’s environmental agency, that work on four major river crossings be completed within 72 hours to limit potential environmental harm.

Mountain Valley has said that digging trenches across the river bottoms for its 42-inch diameter pipe would take four to six weeks.

Two similar stream-crossing permits — one for Southwest Virginia and another for a second part of West Virginia — were suspended by the Army Corps days after the court ruling.

But by the time of the court’s opinion, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection had already initiated changes to address the court’s concerns. The department invited public comments in August — after the court had issued a stay to stream crossings in response to the Sierra Club’s lawsuit, which was later lifted — on a number of revisions to state conditions to the Army Corps’ permits, including one that removed the 72-hour time restriction in certain cases.

Concerns by regulators date back to Mountain Valley’s original plan to use a so-called “wet open cut” process to run the pipeline across streams and wetlands. That entails digging a ditch along the bottom of a flowing stream, and can lead to large amounts of sediment and other forms of pollution being washed downstream.

The company has since changed plans. It now proposes to use a dry-cut method, in which a temporary dam diverts the water from half of the river’s width while construction crews dig a trench for the pipe along the exposed river bed. The process is then repeated on the other half of the river.

While the dry-cut method takes longer than 72 hours, it poses less of an environmental risk, the Department of Environmental Protection said in explaining why it was removing the time restriction.

Appalachian Mountain Advocates, a nonprofit law firm that represented the Sierra Club in the 4th Circuit case, objected to the department’s plans during the written public comment period. In the past, a Sierra Club representative did not rule out the possibility of additional litigation if the Army Corps reissues its Nationwide Permit 12.

For Mountain Valley to get the $4.6 billion project fully back on track, it must still win approval from a second federal agency. The U.S. Forest Service had approved the pipeline to pass through about 3.5 miles of the Jefferson National Forest. That authorization was struck down last year by the 4th Circuit, which ruled that the agency failed to take into account expected problems with erosion and sedimentation.

The appeals court ruling sent the permit back to the Forest Service for reconsideration in July. Since then, the agency has said little about the process, other than it was “developing its response” to the issues identified by the court.

The Forest Service has also not responded to a Freedom of Information Act request seeking more information, which was filed in January by The Roanoke Times.


“Hell With Your Permits — Work Stopped At MVP Site In WV, Protester Charged with Felony” | Blue Virginia, April 25, 2019


Three (3) Protesters Arrested After Binding to MVP Equipment, WSET, June 5, 2018


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