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Virginia Marine Resources Commission Approves Permit for MVP

The Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) approved a permit for Mountain Valley Pipeline Tuesday, January 23 for 18 stream crossings in Virginia. The VMRC has jurisdiction over the state-owned subaqueous bottoms of rivers and streams with a watershed greater than five miles. The permit was approved by the Commission in a 7-1 vote; Associate Board Member Christy Everett voted against the motion.

Map and chart of 18 stream crossings under VMRC jurisdiction

The consideration of MVP’s permit application began with a presentation from VMRC staff member Randy Owen, who gave an overview of the application and presented nine conditions staff proposed be included in a permit approval. Representatives from Mountain Valley Pipeline waived their presentation on the application until after public comment.

The public comment period began with individuals speaking in favor of the pipeline, most of whom referenced the dangers of coal mining, coal ash, and acidic runoff from coal mines, while proposing natural gas as a “necessary clean energy alternative.”

Following public comment in support, the Commission heard comments in opposition to the pipeline, which referenced the following issues, among others, as they relate to the streams under the Commission’s jurisdiction:

  • Dangers of building through karst terrain
  • Soil erosion
  • Loss of tree cover
  • Liquid runoff from construction sites, including fluids from vehicles and the gas itself following construction
  • Blasting through bedrock
  • Channel scour and exposure of the pipe following construction
  • Loss of key water supplies to communities
  • Lack of adequate published mitigation plans
  • Lack of water quality monitoring on certain sites

Throughout presentations by those opposing the pipeline, Commissioner John Bull repeatedly cut presenters off, asserting that the topic they were currently covering was not relevant to the construction of the 18 stream crossings in question.

Representatives from Mountain Valley Pipeline then addressed two of the issues brought up — scour analysis plans and water quality monitoring — and gave vague reference to plans already in place to address these two issues.

During discussion, one member of the Commission asked sitting counsel what would happen if they denied the permit. Counsel from the Attorney General’s office indicated that permit denial would likely result in a lawsuit from MVP, and stated that MVP would most likely win said suit, and “it is not a case [she] would want to defend.”

Another member of the Commission asked if MVP representatives or VMRC staff knew the population of the area surrounding each stream crossing; neither group had data to that effect.

The Commission repeatedly brought up the issue of increasing or modifying conditions to require things like increased inspections, a bond for mitigation purposes, and increased erosion and sediment controls. The sitting counsel responded, stating that the Commission had to be careful in modifying conditions, as they were not permitted to contradict the FERC Order, nor cause any “unreasonable delay” in approval or construction of the project.

The permit was ultimately approved with the following conditions:

(1)   With the exception of the Pigg River and Stony Creek, the instream construction activities shall be accomplished during low flow periods utilizing dam and pump, flume around or within cofferdams constructed of non-erodible materials in such a manner that no more than half the width of the waterway is obstructed at any point in time. All areas of State-owned bottom and adjacent lands disturbed by this activity shall be restored to their original contours and natural conditions within thirty (30) days from the date of completion of the authorized work. All excess materials shall be removed to an upland site and contained in such a manner to prevent its reentry into State waters;

(2)   Erosion and sediment control measures shall be in conformance with the 1992 Third Edition of the Virginia Erosion and Sediment Control Handbook and shall be employed throughout construction;

(3)   If it is determined that blasting is necessary at any of the crossings, the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries  shall be notified a minimum of 48 hours in advance of the blasting;

(4)   The Department of Conservation and Recreation shall be contacted for any stream crossings where karst landscape features are encountered during installation for inspection, mitigation and documentation;

(5)   The Department of Game and Inland Fisheries shall be notified for any work in trout waters to avoid conflicts with trout stocking activities;

(6)   The Permittee agrees to conduct mollusk and fish surveys and relocation efforts in the 18 jurisdictional waterways, as recommended by the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries in their comments dated January 8, 2018, unless specifically waived in writing. All surveys should be performed by a qualified, permitted biologist, no more than six months prior to the start of construction.  Any relocations should be coordinated with the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and no federally listed species should be relocated without first coordinating with the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

(7)   Permittee agrees to adhere to the instream work time-of-year work restriction identified in Attachment H5, Table 1 of the Joint Permit Application as recommended by the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries to protect state and federally listed mussel and fish species, unless specifically waived in writing.

(8)   Permittee agrees to adhere to the Emergency Spill Plan (APPENDIX D-2 Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) Plan and Unanticipated Discovery of Contamination Plan for Construction Activities in Virginia), as filed with FERC and recommended by the Department of Conservation and Recreation.

(9)   Permittee agrees to install the proposed pipeline beneath the Pigg River by the horizontal directional drill method, and Stony Creek by the conventional bore method, to minimize impacts to state and federally listed species. A “frac-out” contingency plan must be provided for the Pigg River crossing to address potential frac-outs or related spills associated with any directional drilling activities. If these crossings methodologies cannot be completed successfully due to unfavorable onsite conditions, both may be undertaken utilizing the open-cut dam and pump crossing methodology.

(10)  VMRC staff shall perform post-construction compliance inspections of the 18 jurisdictional stream crossings to insure that all areas of State-owned bottom disturbed by this activity are restored to their original contours and natural conditions within thirty (30) days from the date of completion of the authorized work.

Condition #10 was added by the VMRC during discussion.