With Impending Hurricane, MVP Continues Rushed Construction

Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality stated the morning of September 11 — two days before reported landfall of a Category 4 hurricane — that the agency had “directed work to stop” on the Mountain Valley Pipeline and that construction had in fact stopped.

Yet communities report active construction several counties in Virginia and West Virginia. Instead of devoting a downsized workforce to true erosion and sedimentation control, MVP continues to weld and trench this evening, September 13, with floodlights and fleets of earthmovers active after 9pm on Bent Mountain and Franklin County. Downsized crews are welding new pipe and digging new trench is occurring to the exclusion of effective erosion and sediment controls along drastic slopes adjacent to fragile streams and resident communities.

Image from September 12 just south of the Blue Ridge Parkway – Franklin County. Photo courtesy Roberta Bondurant
Image from September 13 just south of the Blue Ridge Parkway – Franklin County. Photo courtesy Roberta Bondurant

Representatives of DEQ have responded to public outcry of new, rushed and aggressive construction activity by stating that they have no enforcement power of this “directive” and MVP “voluntarily” opted to stop work.

Roberta Bondurant, POWHR Coalition Co-Chair and Representative of Preserve Bent Mountain

“There comes a point when the public asks if the apparent ineptitude, dodging, and doublespeak of the Governor’s representatives are in fact complicity with MVP. DEQ’s failure to enforce its  “stop work directive” on the Mountain Valley Pipeline shows the Commonwealth’s willingness to roll over while MVP decimates communities in its path. If DEQ were earnest in its issuance of a “directive,” the Virginia State Police would have been on the right of way all week, seizing the keys to the excavators. Governor Northam’s DEQ holds little credibility with residents in the path of MVP.

“The Mid Atlantic region, including MVP executives, have been aware of the the approach of Hurricane Florence for over ten days. MVP’s intentional and reckless drive to dig new trench and bury pipe in the face of predicted life-threatening conditions shows a contemptible disregard for the people who live here.”

Mara Robbins, Representative of Preserve Floyd

“THIS IS A CRIME. Our waters are being destroyed by the MVP. Our regulators, government and decision makers are NOT listening and holding them accountable. The photos you see here are in DIRECT violation of erosion, sedimentation and stormwater management standards for which our DEQ is supposed to be responsible. Does this look like responsible management to you? Demand accountability.

“As we approach imminent extreme weather from a massive hurricane that exemplifies our concerns about the climate crisis and underlines the necessity of breaking our addiction to fossil fuels, we MUST continue to protect our water. DEQ does not seem to know how. There is NO REASONABLE ASSURANCE that our water quality standards are being considered, much less enforced.”

Mary Linkous, Resident of Bent Mountain, VA

“My family lives across the road from the destruction. We can’t always see what they’re doing — honestly I don’t think they WANT us to see — but we sure can hear it. They’re tearing things up from early in the morning to well after dark. Drives us crazy, beep-beep-beeping as they back up. And after that rain last weekend, the flooding next to 221 was just awful.”

Photo courtesy Mary Linkous

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Fourth Circuit Upholds Flawed DEQ 401 Process

The US Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday, August 1 against environmental groups, landowners, and community advocates in a legal challenge to Virginia’s Section 401 Certification granted to the Mountain Valley Pipeline by the Department of Environmental Quality and the State Water Control Board.

Roberta Bondurant and Russell Chisholm, Co-Chairs for the POWHR Coalition

“Despite hearing an abundance of evidence of the failures of Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality and State Water Control Board in certifying a 401 permit for Mountain Valley Pipeline, the Fourth Circuit appellate judges determined the agencies did not act arbitrarily or capriciously when turning Virginia’s water safety over to self-regulation by the project managers.

“These regulatory schemes have allowed DEQ to prioritize corporations over communities and act as a permitting agency for the gas industry as opposed to an environmental overseer. We will continue to fight tenaciously for protection of the environment and the people who are dependent on it in the face of failing agencies. We are ever appreciative to the attorneys, activists, concerned communities, and impacted landowners as they continue to challenge flawed regulatory processes and their manipulation by the gas industry.

“Citizen monitors have been working tirelessly to report ongoing issues with erosion and sediment controls to DEQ, and the response from the agency has been underwhelming. We have little confidence that DEQ staff will hold MVP accountable for repeated problems as documented by citizen volunteers.

“Given the ample evidence presented both in the courtroom and in the field through citizen monitoring efforts, we now call on the State Water Control Board to issue a Stop Work Order immediately to prevent further damage and reconsider the permit in order to protect water resources in the Commonwealth and beyond.”

Bruce Coffey, Representative for Preserve Bent Mountain

“Citizens witnessed, in two separate hearings for MVP and ACP December 2017, the same board members ask the same questions — namely, “How can we keep control over and supervise stream and wetland crossings?” and “Is the general permit protective enough, or at all?”

“That’s a question that the State Water Control Board has asked, and has yet to answer. That’s why we’re asking for a stop work — now.

“But that question is also at the heart of the Fourth Circuit’s rationale in protecting MVP’s route through the national forest — how can we protect sensitive places in our environment with particularity?  Does a general permit “capitulate” the duty to protect? It’s disappointing to say the least to see the Fourth Circuit’s incongruity in rationale from one opinion to the other.

“Sensitive ecosystems and waters abound all along the route of MVP. The perched water table atop Bent Mountain — residents’ sole source of water — is one of those places. We hate to think that Justice won’t know what she’s lost until it’s irretrievable.”

Bonnie Law, Representative for Preserve Franklin

“VA DEQ hoodwinked the State Water Control Board into believing they and MVP would have proper controls in place to prevent erosion and sediment problems, and now it has been proven both do not, with repeated failures and destruction over and over again in Franklin County, VA since May 2018.

“The US 4th Circuit Court of Appeals bought this hoodwinking hook, line, and sinker. Unfortunately they don’t know the Matt Strickler and David Paylor VA DEQ we now know.”

Sandy Schlaudecker and Lynda Majors, Chair and Co-Chair for Preserve Montgomery County, VA

“The Fourth Circuit appellate judges have ignored scientific evidence instead believing that DEQ and MVP can control erosion and sedimentation.  These photos show that the scientists were right. This court ruling will allow the destruction to continue.”

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Before MVP Construction
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After MVP Construction Began

RELATED DOCUMENTS AND STATEMENTS

Fourth Circuit Ruling on DEQ 401 Challenge, Issued 8/1/18

Fourth Circuit Opinion on DEQ 401 Challenge, Issued 8/1/18

MEDIA COVERAGE

Appeals court upholds Virginia’s review of water quality impact of Mountain Valley Pipeline [Roanoke Times]

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VA DEQ Opens Comment Period on Adequacy of NWP 12

UPDATE: Wild Virginia gained access to the public comments submitted during the comment period via a Freedom of Information Act request, and has posted a link to a Google Drive folder with the comments on their website. Virginia Conservation Network reviewed the comments submitted to DEQ and created their own Summary of Comments for the State Water Control Board, which can be viewed here

UPDATE: DEQ announced May 25 that the comment period will be extended as a result of the DEQ website being unavailable for multiple days. The new deadline for comments is June 15, as announced on June 3.

Read Wild Virginia’s Guide to Commenting,  as well as this guidance from the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club. You can read the Army Corps of Engineers Nationwide 12 Permit here.

UPDATE: In response to concerns about the format of information provided by DEQ on identifying stream crossings, the agency made the following modification to instructions for the comment period:

In response to concerns about identifying specific stream crossings or wetlands, be advised that the NWP 12 notice requests, but does not require, the use of the established identifiers at the links provided on our website. DEQ hopes commenters will use these identifiers, but if that is not possible, commenters may submit comments on specific stream crossings or wetlands using information, such as latitude and longitude or road mile markers, that is detailed enough to allow DEQ to identify the crossing or wetland of interest. see www.deq.virginia.gov/PipelineUpdates

ORIGINAL POST: DEQ announced April 27 the opening of a comment period regarding the adequacy of the Army Corps of Engineers Nationwide 12 Permit in protecting Virginia’s waters during the construction and operation of the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast Pipelines. This decision comes as a result of a 5-1 vote by the Virginia State Water Control Board on April 12 to open said comment period.

In early December 2017, dozens of concerned residents, experts, and advocates went in front of the State Water Control Board to express their concerns that the Mountain Valley Pipeline will be the destruction of pristine water resources in Southwest Virginia. Following a rushed and confusing vote to approve the 401 permit for construction in upland areas, those commenters and onlookers were forced out by state and local police forces.

DEQ published the following instructions for the comment period:

PURPOSE OF NOTICE:

The sole purpose of the written public comment period is for interested persons to submit technical comments and/or information for the MVP and ACP projects relevant to:

1) the sufficiency of the Corps NWP 12 permit’s general and regional conditions, as they relate to specific, wetland or stream crossing(s);

2) the sufficiency of the Corps NWP 12 permit authorization for each project, as related to specific, wetland or stream crossing(s); and/or

3) the sufficiency of the Commonwealth’s § 401 water quality certification of NWP 12, as related to specific, wetland or stream crossing(s).

PUBLIC COMMENT PERIOD:

Written comments must be received between April 30, 2018 and 11:59 pm on May 30, 2018.

INFORMATION AND INSTRUCTIONS:

1.  All written comments submitted must include the name(s), mailing address(es) and telephone number(s) of the person(s) commenting.

2.  All written comments submitted must be to a specific wetland or stream crossing. Comments should reference exact wetlands and streams crossings by the identifiers found at the following address: http://www.deq.virginia.gov/PipelineUpdates.aspx.

3.  Written comments may be submitted via hand-delivery to DEQ, 1111 East Main Street, Richmond, VA 23219; via postal mail to DEQ, P.O. Box 1105, Richmond, VA 23218; or via e-mail at the following email address(es) ONLY – emails and attachments sent to other email addresses or internet sites will not be considered:

NWP12InfoOnMVP@deq.virginia.gov

NWP12InforOnACP@deq.virginia.gov

4.  After the comment period closes, DEQ will evaluate the comments and will submit to the board a summary of the relevant comments received; will concurrently provide the summary to the public by posting it on DEQ’s http://www.deq.virginia.gov/PipelineUpdates.aspx; and will make the full text of the comments available to the board.

5.  The board may consider, but is not required to consider, further actions that are consistent with its regulatory authority, without additional public comment on whether further action is warranted.

6.  For assistance with the instructions in this notice or issues with the DEQ web page(s), please contact: Office of Public Information at deqpublicinfo@deq.virginia.gov or 804-698-4000

The comment period is open to the public April 30 to May 30.

Relevant news coverage from the Roanoke Times

Virginia Spent $50K on DEQ Meeting Security and We Don’t Know Why.

We will try to break this story down for you in order to illuminate how content farming erodes our understanding of fossil fuel infrastructure issues. This is an AP story cut and pasted into several news sites on March 23, 2018:

Records: State police spent nearly $50K on pipeline hearings

  • Note the use of a stock image supplied by the energy company. Massive, highly pressurized methane pipelines are, after all, just harmless tubes jutting up from patches of wildflowers across open fields.
  • Pay attention to how “opponents” are lumped together with “protesters” without ever describing any actual protest that took place or detailing the hundreds of people who attempted to present their reasoned objections to these projects in an entirely lawful and peaceful way. Many of the Virginia citizens who attended those meetings drove hundreds of miles to exercise their right to participate in a public meeting. The “other issues” of hundreds of stream crossings and very real threats to private and public water sources were ignored and attendees were met by a massive police and private security presence.
  • Consider the following statement: “The companies developing the pipelines say they can be built in a way that protects the environment.” Both Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Mountain Valley Pipeline have spokespersons. These people have names. They speak for the pipelines. If they have claimed that construction of the projects will protect the environment, then surely those quotes can be found using some sort of search tool. If, however, “the companies developing the pipelines” have actually submitted environmental impact statements describing the damage they will do and the mitigation plans for that damage, then why not publish that information instead of bland, unattributed, and misleading lorem ipsum?
  • The public records request that led to this story is commendable. So where are the documents? What kind of equipment did Virginia State Police spend $34,588 on and why was it necessary? To keep “protestors” from exceeding their three minute comment time? Because $34,588 would buy a lot of construction monitoring equipment and maybe, possibly, keep actual lawbreaking from happening.
  • People within the evacuation zones of these pipelines probably consume an unhealthy amount of media coverage of the threats and the failed regulatory process. Outside of the sacrifice zones the story is too often summarized and digested as “Noble Job Creator vs. Environmental Protester.” This approach ignores the real fears, intimidation tactics, and hostility that communities along the routes are subjected to by these corporations and the state. Now that tensions are starting to boil over it is important to remember that for those of us who have worked together to protect our communities this heavy-handed security response isn’t just wasteful. It is irresponsible and casts dissenting citizens as more threatening than the powerful corporate interests we organize against.

Read Virginia DEQ Erosion and Sedimentation Control Plans for MVP

Related Coverage: “A Crowd is Gathering.”

Related Coverage: Tree Sitters Still Sitting

Roanoke County Says No to DEQ Memorandum of Agreement

Roanoke County’s Board of Supervisors voted against a motion to sign a Memorandum of Agreement with the Department of Environmental Quality. Please see the following news links for more information:

Roanoke Times Coverage — Roanoke County supervisors hold off on pipeline inspection agreement

WDBJ7 Coverage — Roanoke County Supervisors pass on DEQ agreement

Volunteer to Monitor Pipeline Construction

Felled trees in Giles County, VA

Volunteer Pipeline Visual Assessment Program

The Volunteer Pipeline Visual Assessment Program was developed by Trout Unlimited and West Virginia Rivers Coalition to support and train volunteer citizen observers to identify, document and report pollution incidents associated with large-scale pipeline development.

Through a series of free webinars, volunteers will learn about erosion control best management practices used in pipeline development, specific examples of pollution to look for, and how to best document those problems. After the webinar, volunteer observers will be able to report pollution incidents to TU and WV Rivers. To learn more, visit the program webpage.

Sign up for April 28th training in Bent Mountain, Virginia here.

View Recorded Version Here.

Sign up for a pipeline “Neighborhood Watch.”

UPDATE: Virginia DEQ Approves Erosion and Sediment Control Plans for MVP

Volunteers are needed to document tree clearing, erosion and sedimentation problems, stream crossings, and other impacts of Mountain Valley Pipeline construction in our communities. Do not enter construction areas. If you see problematic practices — such as excessive runoff or damage to waterways due to construction activity, unsafe work practices, and ineffective erosion and sediment controls — please take photos and or video, document the date and time, and record the location data. Contact our monitoring coordinators with the form below.

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