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Environmentalists, Dominion argue over pipeline’s effect on mountaintops


The State Journal

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — As the Atlantic Coast Pipeline heads toward its final approval or rejection from federal regulators, its developers and its opponents are arguing over whether it will require the removal of 19 miles of ridgeline in West Virginia and a similar amount in Virginia.

A report issued late last month by the Chesapeake Climate Action Network makes that assertion, while Dominion Resources, which is developing the pipeline, rejects it.

The pipeline would carry natural gas from the Marcellus Shale fields of northern West Virginia to North Carolina, where existing pipelines are near capacity. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has issued a draft environmental impact statement on the pipeline and plans to issue a final EIS this summer. Developers hope construction on the 550-mile, $4.5 billion project can begin this fall.

CCAN’s report says the pipeline’s construction would “decapitate” 38 miles of ridge on its route. That includes sections of the pipeline route in Harrison, Lewis, Upshur, Randolph and Pocahontas counties, according to the report. Between 10 and 60 feet of the tops of mountain ridges would be “reduced” along the route, the report says.

“For perspective, the height equivalent of a five-story building would be erased in places from fully forested and ancient mountains,” the report says.

Other groups attaching their names to the report are the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance, Appalachian Mountain Advocates, Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition and Friends of Nelson.

Aaron Ruby, media relations manager for Dominion Energy, said he does not like describing the material in the CCAN report as “research” or “new findings.”

“I see no research or anything like that,” he said.

Ruby said the claims CCAM made are totally inaccurate, were based on faulty assumptions or were a deliberate attempt to mislead.

He said Dominion has built more than 2,000 miles of underground pipeline in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Over the past two years, it has performed extensive analysis of steep-slope construction that will be involved in the ACP. Its construction practices are designed to prevent erosion on slopes and they have been thoroughly scrutinized by federal agencies, he said.

“It is a gross exaggeration to use terms like mountaintop removal, and it’s deliberately so,” Ruby said.

Lowering a ridge by 10 to 60 feet would violate federal regulations, Ruby said.

As with any infrastructure project, Dominion will need to clear and level land so it can dig the pipeline trench, Ruby said. CCAN wrongly assumes Dominion will need to grade a 125-foot-wide path along the ridges, he said. While 125 fee3t is used on flatter, lower areas, only a 10-foot-wide trench will need to be excavated on ridges, he said. As soon as the pipe is installed, the trench will be filled and the ridgeline’s original contour will be restored, he said.

Federal regulations require that Dominion maintain a 50-foot-wide right-of-way free of trees along the pipeline route, “but that’s going to be the only visual difference you will notice,” he said.

No one from CCAN contacted Dominion before issuing the report, “and they haven’t backed away from any of their claims when we provided evidence that all their assumptions were off base,” Ruby said.

CCAN spokeswoman Anne Havemann dismissed Ruby’s criticisms of her group’s report.

“We have heard these things before,” she said. “They are responding with unenforceable promises.”

Everything in the report came from documents filed with regulatory agencies, she said.

Documents filed with the West Virginia Division of Environmental Protection show Dominion using a 125-foot-wide right-of-way on the project, Havemann said. Narrow ridgelines will require widening and flattening to accommodate that right-of-way, Havemann said.

“Their unenforceable promises say a lot less than their submissions to regulatory agencies,” Havemann said.

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