LUMBERTON — The builders of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline received federal approval Friday to begin cutting down trees, the same day multiple legal challenges were filed to stop the project.
“Today, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Supply Header Project received authorization from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to begin limited tree felling and vegetation clearing in areas planned for construction in 2018,” said Aaron Ruby, a Dominion Energy spokesman.
Dominion, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and Southern Company Gas are partners in Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC, which wants to build a 600-mile natural gas pipeline that would start in West Virginia and end near Pembroke.
The dropping of trees will begin in coming days in West Virginia and Virginia, Ruby said. Activity in North Carolina will begin after remaining state agency approvals are received.
“This work will only be done on properties where we’ve reached agreements with landowners,” Ruby said. “None of the work will be done in wetlands, near water bodies or in other areas that require additional federal and state permits. We will of course notify all landowners before beginning activity on their property.”
Tree felling will continue through the end of March, he said. Felled trees will remain along the right of way until the pipeline’s builders receive remaining state and federal approvals to clear trees and begin other construction work.
“Once we’ve received those approvals, we’ll take the final step of requesting a Notice to Proceed with construction from FERC,” Ruby said. “We expect to receive all remaining approvals and a Notice to Proceed in time to begin construction in the early spring.”
A group of environmental groups took action to stall, if not halt, construction of the pipeline.
“The Southern Environmental Law Center and Appalachian Mountain Advocates, on behalf of a coalition of community and conservation groups, filed a legal challenge to the Virginia State Water Control Board’s approval of a water quality certification for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline,” a Law Center statement issued Friday reads in part.
The group claims the certification, issued in December, does not adequately assess the effects of the project on water quality in Virginia to meet the requirements of the Clean Water Act.
“This is one in a long series of bad decisions that shines a light on the systematically flawed review process for this dangerous project,” said Lew Freeman, executive director of the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance. “A pipeline that cuts through Virginia’s precious rivers and streams should be held to the highest standards, and the people of the Commonwealth deserve that protection.”
The Alliance represents a number of the plaintiff organizations, including Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife and Virginia Wilderness Committee.
“From the very start of this process, Dominion has pressured state and federal regulators charged with protecting local communities and the environment to quickly approve its project, despite the risks to landowners and natural resources and despite widespread public opposition,” said SELC attorney Greg Buppert. “As this challenge demonstrates, it’s clear these agencies must fundamentally re-evaluate the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and their processes that failed to thoroughly and properly evaluate this project and its impact.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services’ granted developers the ability to move forward with the project despite, according to the Sierra Club, it threatening endangered bats.
“We depend on the Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure that endangered species are not unjustifiably harmed,” said Nathan Matthews, of the Sierra Club. “They’ve fallen far short of their obligation here.”
The SELC’s final legal challenge of the day targets the National Park Service’s issuance of a permit to allow the pipeline to cross beneath the Blue Ridge Parkway. The SELC claims that building the pipeline would have long-term affects on the Parkway’s natural beauty.
Ruby remains confident.
“It has been a lengthy and rigorous regulatory process over the last three and half years,” Ruby said. “More than a dozen state and federal agencies have thoroughly reviewed the project and left no stone unturned. We are now days away from beginning pre-construction work that will pave the way for full construction in the spring and completion of the project in late 2019.”
Managing Editor T.C. Hunter can be reached at 910-816-1974 or [email protected]