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Pipelines; A Bird's Eye View Part 2

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Molly Hagan Photography
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Decision day is getting closer for the Mountain Valley Pipeline.  If approved, it would carry natural gas from Pennsylvania, through Virginia and beyond. In part one of our report, Robbie Harris told you about about a call for regulators to look at the big picture when considering new pipeline projects.  Today we get a bird’s eye view of part of the proposed route, where the pipeline would cross the Appalachian Trail, also known as  “The ‘A’ ‘T.’  

Andrew Downs:  “The A. T. is right below us now. All this land was preserved for the Appalachian Trail.”

Andrew Downs has hiked this part of the Appalachian Trail many times, but it’s the first time he’s seeing it from the air.

"We should be just about over the pipeline route right now as we bank left. / Pilot, Jack Lynch/ Yeah, right of the wing tip…"

Pilot, Jack Lynch is flying this Columbia 350, 4 seater just below the clouds and just above the mountains.

"Oh yeah look at that!  There’s some hikers down there. See that little flash of red. They’re drying their clothes.”

We're over Giles County Virginia where the AT winds through what many consider the to be one of the most beautiful stretches of the 2,200 mile footpath. From up here we see forested mountain ridges that look like an ocean of green wave.   

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Andrew Downs, Central Southwest VA Regional Director, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, left, flying the path of the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline WVTF's Robbie Harris

"You feel like you’re at the ends of the earth all most there’s that sense of adventure and wonder that comes with being immersed in nature and we still have that available to us here. That’s something not to be taken for granted.”

Downs is this area’s Regional Director of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. He’s concerned about the pipeline’s proposed route because he believes it would impact areas that define the character of southwestern Virginia wilderness.

“Kelly Nob, which is the large mountain in front of us is 2 miles away from the pipeline corridor, one of the most iconic views in central Virginia and one of the places with likely significant visual impact. (From the right of way for the Mountain Valley Pipeline.)”

This is not the first time a power line or pipeline would cross the trail. But this is the first time this organization is officially opposing the proposed route of one.   In the past it has worked directly with energy companies to site them in ways that protect the land they cross.

“We want to support a good idea and there are good ideas on energy infrastructure out there. We don’t want to spend our time opposing energy infrastructure that our country might benefit from.”

There are some 500 miles of Appalachian Trail in Virginia.  The Mountain Valley pipeline would parallel it for about 15.  Downs says, because of the scale of this project, and the geography of this area, evidence of the pipeline’s footprint could be visible for a hundred miles.

“That’s the thing, people say it’s going to be buried but there’s still the corridor of cleared land.  When you look at these lands defined by unbroken tracks, it really sticks out like a sore thumb.”

Downs says, entire U.S trail system is watching to see what happens here.

“The A.T. is like the grandfather of the national trail system so when you undermine that protection on national forests, for the A.T. you set a precedent that can negatively affect every national scenic trail in the country.”

There has been disagreement between the Conservancy and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission over what the actual impact of the pipeline might be on the trail.  After FERC issued a draft Environmental Impact Statement last year, the conservancy flagged what is said were numerous errors and called it woefully inaccurate.  It commissioned visual impact simulations of its town and filed additional comments and photos in an effort to have those errors corrected.  There’s no way to know if those concerns have been addressed, that is, until the Final version of the Environmental Impact Study is released next week, as planned. 

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