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Criminal Investigation of Mountain Valley Pipeline Underway

Preserve Bent Mountain

Two Roanoke lawyers have been documenting work rule violations on the Mountain Valley Pipeline construction project. They shared their findings with government officials and, last week, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia launched a criminal investigation into the matter.

Some critics of the project say a 42 inch diameter pipeline is just inherently more dangerous than traditional sized pipelines, more prone to the unlikely possibility of exploding, than the smaller ones. But it’s the Mountain Valley  pipeline’s potential danger to rivers and streams in mountainous regions like southwestern and West Virginia, that prompted  two attorneys, working pro bono, to document what they believe may be, violations of the Clean Water Act.

Charlie Williams and Tom Bondurant represent the group “Preserve Bent Mountain,”  one of several “Preserve” groups in the area fighting the pipeline. The two men were able to get close enough to worksites, without trespassing, to see, in one case, “signs demarcating wetlands and streams.”  Williams says the signs had been placed there by MVP workers.  “…and what we saw, immediately adjacent to that area, was a slope that was a hundred percent slope, a 45-degree angle, where trees had been cut.  We saw where the run-off and sediment were running into the wetlands and washing into a stream.”
They also received permission, from landowners near constructions sites, to take photographs from their properties.
Williams says, “When we saw, what we saw, we basically concluded that we had been able to get enough photographic evidence, that we felt that we could, in good conscience, submit them to the E-P-A and the U.S. Attorney for their consideration.”

 That is what lead to the opening of a criminal investigation by U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia, Thomas Cullen. It’s the first time that office has taken up the matter, which has divided citizens and public officials here since before construction began early in 2019.
“What we are interested in,” says Williams, “is not if the pipeline is good thing or a bad thing. “It’s not about whether it should be built or shouldn’t be built. It’s about how it’s being built.

 The pipeline company, EQT Partners acknowledged the criminal investigation now underway and said in a statement that the pipeline project will be completed by the end of the year, regardless.  Pipeline opponents have asked state and federal officials to halt construction while these and other issues are sorted out, but it hasn’t happened.  Spokeswoman Natalie Cox did not respond to our request for comment.
A public meeting of Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality, regarding the pipeline is set for March 1st in Richmond. The meeting is billed as being a preamble to a subsequent hearing to consider whether to revoke the project’s permit. No date has been announced for the second meeting. 

Robbie Harris is based in Blacksburg, covering the New River Valley and southwestern Virginia.
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