LUMBERTON — Work on the Atlantic Coast pipeline is Robeson County is not affected by Tuesday’s federal Appeals Court ruling to halt construction in Virginia, and local construction could begin within weeks.
“The impact of the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling is on a small portion of the 600-mile route of the ACP and there will be no impact in North Carolina,” said Tammie McGee, Duke Energy’s Communications manager. “Through our project planning, we purposefully avoided areas of endangered species which is why the impact of this ruling is relatively limited.”
Tree-felling operations ended about a month ago, so there’s very little activity in Robeson County, she said.
“The project has requested from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission authorization to proceed with full construction in North Carolina, and we are expecting we will be able to get underway by June,” McGee said.
Dominion Energy, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and Southern Company Gas are partners in the project to build a $5 billion pipeline that would carry natural gas from West Virginia through Virginia and North Carolina. The pipeline would end near Pembroke.
The Appeals Court ruled Tuesday in favor of plaintiffs who argued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Biological Opinion required to certify the ACP did not meet minimum legal standards. The three-judge panel struck down the federal agency’s review, known as an incidental take statement, which is meant to set limits on harm to threatened or endangered species during construction.
“We spent more than three years developing the safest and most environmentally responsible route for the pipeline. We carefully studied more than 6,000 miles of potential routes before choosing the best 600-mile route with the least impact. After consulting with landowners and performing extensive field surveys, we made more than 300 route adjustments to avoid environmentally sensitive areas such as wetlands, wildlife habitats, drinking water sources and sensitive geologic features,” Jen Kostyniuk, a spokeswoman for Dominion Energy, said in a statement.
The ACP’s builders are continuing to analyze the order and its effects on the project, Kostyniuk said.
“We are consulting with federal and state agencies, as we have throughout this project,” she said in her statement. “Our next steps will be to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who we expect will revise the Incidental Take Statement to provide limits that are more specific.”
The pipeline’s builders don’t have a specific date of when the revised Incidental Take Statement will be prepared.
“ACP has conducted extensive survey work for all six species over the past four years and there is a robust record on which to resolve this matter in an expedited manner,” she wrote. “We will fully comply as required while we continue to construct the project.
“We will continue to move forward with construction as scheduled.”
Federal regulators declined to stop work Wednesday on the pipeline in the wake of the Appeals Court’s ruling. The decision came over the objections of environmental groups that insist the vacated permit means all construction must cease.
A Federal Energy Regulatory Commission official issued a letter Wednesday directing the natural gas pipeline only to file documentation within five days explaining how it will avoid the threatened or endangered species the permit was intended to protect.
D.J. Gerken, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, said the commission staff appeared to be “skipping lightly” over its own requirement that a valid permit be in place.
Construction must cease because other federal permits allowing work to proceed are contingent on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approval vacated by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Gerken said.
“This is at best FERC winking at its own requirements for the benefit of Atlantic,” said Gerken.
T.C. Hunter can be reached at 910-816-1974. The Associated Press contributed to this report.