The News & Advance
By Emily Brown
Amid a flurry of activity surrounding the project during the past couple of weeks, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline recently received a set of important federal authorizations.
Last week, four districts of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers covering the footprint of the 600-mile natural gas project each issued federal water quality permits, known individually as a Nationwide Permit 12. The federal permits govern water quality under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act — which regulates the discharge of water into U.S. waterbodies — and provide guidelines for ACP to abide by when crossing waterbodies.
In Virginia, the project would cross nearly 900 waterbodies and would affect about 80 acres of wetlands and 2,000 linear feet of streams permanently.
The Army Corps permits represent one of the final regulatory hurdles for the ACP, which will cut through West Virginia, Virginia — including about 27 miles in Nelson County — and North Carolina. Some state and local permits still are required before ACP will be allowed to begin full-scale construction.
“This is another key regulatory approval and keeps us on track to begin full construction by early spring,” said Aaron Ruby, spokesman for lead project developer Dominion Energy. “The Army Corps carefully reviewed each of the project’s stream and water body crossings and concluded that the project will preserve the region’s water quality under stringent federal standards.”
As other aspects of the permitting process unfolded in Virginia in 2017, opponents of the project asserted the Army Corps permits would not provide rigorous review of waterbody crossings. Opponents criticized the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality for only regulating upland crossings, or those on higher ground, with its 401 certification, which was issued last December.
The Army Corps permits pave the way for more pre-construction activities along the route of the pipeline.
With the permits now in hand, ACP officials on Monday submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission a request for a “limited notice to proceed” in Virginia with non-mechanized tree felling and cutting of vegetation in non-uplands in certificated workspaces along the pipeline right of way, on access roads and in contractor yards.
In West Virginia and North Carolina, ACP has asked FERC for approval to begin mechanized tree felling and clearing of trees and vegetation.
ACP still must be granted the limited notice to proceed by FERC before it can begin such activity. Additionally, those pre-construction activities only can take place in areas where ACP has signed easement agreements with landowners.
Ruby said about 80 percent of landowners along the 600-mile route have signed agreements so far, and eminent domain proceedings have been filed in federal court for some landowners who have not signed agreements. ACP has filed suits against landowners who own property where construction is slated to begin in 2018.
ACP recently filed eminent domain suits against two Nelson parties, Fenton Family Holdings LLC, which owns the Fenton Inn bed-and-breakfast near Wintergreen, and Wintergreen Property Owners Association.
Before last week’s permits were issued, the ACP already had been allowed by FERC to conduct non-mechanized tree felling in upland areas; and tree felling in a few areas of the state, not including Nelson County, already has begun.
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