By Charles Young
MORGANTOWN — Despite numerous setbacks, legal challenges and opposition from environmental advocacy groups, a Dominion Energy official said the company remains confident that construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline will be complete by 2021.
Anand Yegan, director of gas transmission business development for Dominion, gave industry stakeholders a compressive overview of the project’s current standing during the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association’s 2019 Fall Meeting in Morgantown.
The company believes the U.S. Supreme Court will ultimately rule in its favor when the justices hear oral arguments next year relating to a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit that revoked a key permit needed for construction to continue, Yegan said.
“The case is going to be heard in the Supreme Court — we expect to have oral hearings in late winter, springtime of 2020 with a decision expected no later than June 2020,” he said. “It’s a huge, positive step for the project. It’s also an endorsement of some of the things that we believe, that the permit issuance was done the right way.”
The Fourth Circuit’s decision denied a permit issued by the Forest Service allowing the pipeline’s route to go through two national forests and across the Appalachian Trail.
Dominion voluntarily halted all major construction activities on the pipeline in December following the Fourth Circuit’s decision, which resulted in layoffs for much of the project’s workforce.
Developers are also awaiting the outcome of a challenge to the project’s biological opinion, relating to the Endangered Species Permit issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Yegan said.
“In this case, the Fourth Circuit found that Fish and Wildlife, the process and analysis that went into it, were deficient and they needed to do more,” he said. “Right now as we stand we are working with Fish and Wildlife to reinitiate consultation and expect the resistance of the biological opinion by winter of 2019-2020.”
The overall budget for the project, not including financing costs, is now between $7.3 and $7.8 billion, Yegan said.
The cost of the project has now risen more than $1 billion since it was originally announced in 2013.
The company stands by its position that the project was properly and thoroughly scrutinized for environmental compliance by the state and federal agencies that originally issued it all of the needed permits back in 2017, Yegan said.
“It is by far the most comprehensive review of any project in the region from an environmental perspective,” he said. “Just to provide context ... if you stack up the paper the went into just leading up to the FERC (Federal Environmental Regulatory Commission) certificate it’s (as tall as) a five-story building.”
In a video Yegan showed during his presentation, Greg Hadjis, president of North Central West Virginia-based construction firm J.F. Allen Co., shared some of the ways the ACP’s continued shutdown has impacted his business and employees.
“When Dominion Energy announced the ACP pipeline, we saw that as a real opportunity to grow our business and also give our employees better opportunities,” Hadjis said. “Abruptly we got a call that the pipeline was being shut down. We have a number of trucks that are idled and, of course, those truck drivers are laid off at this point so it obviously affects their families.”
Anne Blankenship, executive director of WVONGA, said her organization has been proud to support the ACP and its promise of economic opportunities for the state throughout the ups and downs of the process.
“It’s something we are always working on and helping them trying to get the story out as they are navigating their hurdles that they have to get that pipeline built,” she said. “Just locally even in West Virginia, of course this pipeline spreads to many states, but the impact on the communities and the jobs the pipeline construction creates are huge.
“Our numbers in West Virginia have increased significantly as far as job growth just related to pipeline construction.”
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