The controversial Mountain Valley Gas Pipeline has been under construction since the beginning of the year. Most of the trees on its 300 mile path have been cut and sections of pipeline and were being installed when the project hit a snag last week and a court issued a suspension for construction through streams and waterways.
Flying over the Mountain Valley Pipeline last week in a small plane, pilot Hap Endler gets close enough to construction site that it looks a bit like one of those miniature train sets. Long sections of light green colored pipe, 42 inches in diameter, waiting to be buried, are easy to see from the air. But what you can’t see are the hundreds of water ways, some little more than a trickl,e that cross the pipeline’s path.
“A lot of them are very small water bodies and some, including some of the agencies, would tell you, ‘don’t worry about it because they’re small, little streams.' The problem is those are some of the most valuable and sensitive streams that we have,” says David Sligh with a group called ‘Wild Virginia.’
“Those are the homes of the Brook Trout, of the endangered Roanoke Log Perch, of mussels that are found nowhere else in the world. So, the fact that those places are so vulnerable means they should have more protection not less, and we believe, and scientists tell us, that (for) some of these streams, the populations will be wiped out,” Sligh says.
We’re being flown over the pipeline, courtesy of a nonprofit conservation organization called Southwings. As we soar over mountainous terrain, interrupted by patchwork quilts of residential areas, farms, small towns and endless trees. Sligh points out what he believes to be violations of proper protocol and safety. But it’s not pipeline construction that has now been halted by the court in the decision announced last Friday. Only the crossing of any of the 383 streams and 142 wetlands in the pipeline's path,is on hold. And while that makes pipeline construction more difficult, it is not prohibited under the ruling.
Last week, Appalachian Mountain Advocates, representing several environmental groups asked the Army Corps of Engineers to suspend the pipeline's Virginia stream crossing permit based on a federal court decision vacating a similar permit in West Virginia issued earlier in the Week. Last Friday the Corps did so.
The pipeline company has said it is disappointed by the court’s decision and will apply for a new permit for water crossings. On its website it says it is committed to the “…continued responsible construction of this important natural gas infrastructure project that will serve homes and business in the mid-Atlantic and Southeast United States.” And that, with “…ongoing evaluation of its construction plan, MVP continues to target a full in-service (date) during the fourth quarter 2019."