A Pipeline Update: Where Things Stand Now

Aug 20, 2018

Virginia’s Water Control Board will meet Tuesday to consider the question of whether the state should be inspecting every point on a river or stream where pipeline builders propose to cross.  The Department of Environmental Quality had concluded it was enough to let the Army Corps of Engineers do that, but more than 9,000 people wrote to DEQ to protest that decision. 

Protesters in Buckingham County hope to stop construction of a massive compressor station there.

Construction on both the ACP and MVP has stopped under court orders, but protests continue.

About three dozen people showed up in remote Buckingham County to learn more about plans for a giant compressor station that would push natural gas through 600 miles of line.

“Normally every sixty miles there’s a little compressor station.," says opponent Kay Ferguson. "This is the only one in Virginia, so it’s a monster.”

She is appalled by the proposed location of the compressor station.

“In the middle of a rural African-American community.  Some of these families have owned that land since before the end of the Civil War.  They bought their freedom and this land, and it’s full of unmarked slave graves," she explains.  "It’s the starkest example of environmental racism that I’ve ever seen.”

Critics say the plant will be noisy, create air and light pollution, but their county board approved it, so now residents here and all along the path of the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Pipelines are taking their complaints to court, and Greg Buppert of the Southern Environmental Law Center says they’ve had some success.

“There have been, of course, the two rulings from the Fourth Circuit throwing out the park service permit and the Fish and Wildlife Service permit.”

And in September he’ll be back with two more suits against the state of Virginia and the U.S. Forest Service.

Dominion says it will quickly address concerns and get permits back, but Buppert and his clients say it won’t be so easy to convince regulators that they can put a tunnel under the Blue Ridge Parkway and build miles of pipeline through a national forest without doing extensive environmental harm.  Some proof came this summer when heavy rains washed rocks and soil into rivers and streams.

“Private property has been damaged," he says. "One of those violations was a one mile stream filled with seven inches of sediment.  It is likely impossible to build up and down Appalachian ridges and keep the mountainside on the mountain.”

Which brings us to the banks of Licking Hole Creek in Crozet – where Dave Sligh from Wild Virginia says under the Clean Water Act the state has an obligation to do more.

“Congress said we are reserving state’s rights to protect their water, so for Virginia to pass on its ability to look out for its  own citizens is a real betrayal.”

Virginia’s Water Control Board will debate that point when it meets in Richmond.  Already, Sligh says, the seven board members have received more than 17,000 e-mails and letters on the subject.

“The vast majority of course were form letters and e-mails, but there were some amazing and detailed reports from a lot of landowners who know their streams and had gone way out of their way to get expert opinions and to document what’s going on" Slight explains.

The Department of Environmental Quality said its inspectors would be duplicating the work of the Army Corps if it were to study the places where pipelines might cross water, but Sligh says Virginia has tougher standards than the feds.

“In Virginia we have what’s called an anti-degradation requirement. That means if your waters are of high quality you’re not supposed to lower that quality, and the Corps says we will allow no more than minimal impacts and no more than temporary impacts, and they have a lot of kind of vague terms like that which they don’t define.”

He adds that the Army Corps doesn’t consider the recreational value of water bodies, and its list of streams was incomplete.  All of which gives attorney Greg Buppert hope that what some see as a pair of unstoppable pipelines can, in fact, be prevented.

“Dominion wants the public to think that this project is inevitable, that it’s well underway, but the reality on the ground right now is that less than three miles of pipeline have been installed.”

And with two members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission opposing construction – one of them a Trump appointee – he thinks the Mountain Valley Pipeline might also be history.