LUMBERTON — The builders of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline moved one step closer on Tuesday to being able to begin construction.
The Virginia State Water Control Board voted 4-3 to approve a key Clean Water Act permit referred to as a 401 water-quality certification. The citizen board of gubernatorial appointees was charged with determining whether there is “reasonable assurance” water along the route won’t be contaminated during construction of the approximately $5 billion, 600-mile natural gas pipeline.
The permit won’t take effect until several additional studies — including an erosion and sediment control plan, stormwater management plan and testing on sensitive karst topography — are reviewed and approved by the Department of Environmental Quality, spokesman Bill Hayden said. A full text of the amendments the board voted to include wasn’t immediately available late Tuesday.
The department will not allow pipeline construction to begin until the erosion and sediment control plan is completed and approved, which might not be until March or April, Hayden said.
“Today the Virginia State Water Control Board approved the state water quality certification for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a very significant milestone for the project and another major step toward final approval,” Dominion Energy spokesperson Aaron Ruby said in a statement.
Dominion Energy is one of four partners in the project to build the pipeline that would start in West Virginia and end near Pembroke. The other partners are Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and Southern Company Gas.
“The board reached its decision after the most thorough environmental review of any infrastructure project in Virginia history,” the statement said. “After more than three years of exhaustive study by state agencies and extensive public input, the board concluded that the project will preserve Virginia’s water quality under stringent state standards.”
Board approval came with several conditions to strengthen water quality protections and require other state approvals before the certification takes effect.
“We will work closely with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to complete all remaining approvals in a timely manner and ensure we meet all conditions of the certification,” the statement said.
The Water Control Board’s decision is being questioned by the Southern Environmental Law Center, which claims the decision was made hastily and without providing clarity to new language presented before the vote.
A statement from the center reads in part, “This decision will by no means allow this unneeded and contested project to begin construction. The Southern Environmental Law Center, on behalf of its clients, is exploring all legal avenues regarding this decision.”
The center calls the pipeline a threat to thousands of waterways in Virginia and North Carolina.
“The board confused matters today with an approval of the water permit for the ACP with new conditional language that is unclear. SELC is exploring the legal implications of the decision that was made today and what it means for construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline,” Greg Buppert, the center’s senior attorney, said . “Governor-elect (Ralph) Northam should pay close attention to how DEQ is mismanaging this process. This unneeded pipeline is too big of a threat to Virginia’s environment, to our energy future and to utility customers’ wallets.”