State prepares to make key decision that could affect future of ACP pipeline

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: Dec. 7, 2017 | 12:25 p.m.

DINWIDDIE – Just over three months after hundreds of people made their way to Southside Virginia Community College to voice their support and opposition to a proposed 600-mile underground natural gas pipeline, state officials are slated to make a decision that will play a key part in the pipeline’s construction and future.

On Dec. 11 and 12, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s State Water Control Board is slated to hold a two-day meeting where they are expected to decide if they will issue a 401 Water Quality Certification to the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines.

This month’s meeting is the culmination of years of conversation and months of debate and public comment on the proposed pipeline that would provide natural gas transmission from the northern reaches of West Virginia, through the Appalachian Mountains and Virginia’s western counties before advancing generally southeastward toward a compressor station near the Virginia-North Carolina line, where it will diverge in two directions, due south toward far southern North Carolina and east toward the heart of Hampton Roads in the Commonwealth.

The massive $5.1 billion infrastructure project would be developed, built and operated by Atlantic, a company formed by four regionally based energy companies, Dominion Energy, formerly Dominion Virginia Power, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas, and Southern Electric Company.

According to documents from Virginia DEQ, while the Virginia Water Protection program “was sufficient to evaluate, and, when necessary, mitigate potential water quality impacts for linear construction projects, such as roads and pipelines” because VWP Permit coverage addresses the impacts caused to wetlands and streams by projects, this permit didn’t cover activities in upland areas.

Due to this, DEQ officials “issued a guidance document describing procedures DEQ will use to conduct a separate supplemental review of a natural gas infrastructure project with respect to upland impacts that may indirectly affect state waters.”

As a result, additional 401 Water Quality Conditions were imposed on the proposed pipeline for upland areas.

Those proposed conditions were the result of a series of public hearings held around the Commonwealth to give those on both sides the chance to have their opinions heard on the subject.

In state documents, some of those conditions include requiring Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s operators to conduct a survey to identify “wells cisterns, springs, and other surface waters within 1,000 feet of the project centerline in areas of karst topography,” or areas where the rock is capable of being dissolved by surface water or groundwater. The pipeline’s owners are would also be required to “conduct one water quality sampling event to evaluate wells and springs used for human consumption and located between 500 feet to 1,000 feet from the project centerline,” with that sample being taken “before the pipeline is placed into operation” and, “The Owner must complete any survey and water quality evaluation requests received at least 30 days prior to placing the project in service.”

Another condition of the 401 Water Quality Certification would require the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s owners to “provide a financial responsibility demonstration to the [Department of Environmental Quality] in the amount of $5 million, to support the Complaint Resolution Process … in the event of private water supply used for human consumption is impacted from project construction activities.”

During their two-day meeting, the board is expected to go over a two-dozen page summary of the department’s responses to public comments and questions during the course of the 401 Water Quality Certification process. According to their numbers, Virginia DEQ estimates that “over 15,000 comments” were made on the draft 401 Certification for the pipeline during a 50-day public comment period that ran from July 3, 2017, to August 22, 2017.

To that end, one of the first comments addressed in the agency’s report deals with the suggestion that the department “has not followed appropriate administrative procedures for public comments and public hearings.”

COMPLETE COVERAGE: Atlantic Coast Pipeline & Dinwiddie County
Reporting by Michael Campbell, News Editor

According to Virginia DEQ officials, they “adhered to established procedures for public comment and public hearing” regarding the 401 Water Quality Certification, which requires public notice of the draft certification conditions be published “once in one or more newspapers of general circulation in the areas in which the pipeline activity is to take place and provide a public comment period of 15 to 30 days, including the opportunity to request a hearing or provide a comment period of 30 days with a scheduled public hearing at the end of the 30 days.”

DEQ reports the opportunity to submit written comments during the comment period and to submit oral and written comment at three public hearings “were published the week of July 3, 2017,” appearing in 12 newspapers, including The Dinwiddie Monitor, The Emporia-Independent Messenger, Brunswick Times-Gazette, and Richmond Times-Dispatch, among others.

Along with a 50-day public comment period, three public hearings were held at James Madison and Longwood universities and Southside Virginia Community College. DEQ also “included a brief description of the proposed pipeline activity, [the] location of such activity and state waters that may be affected, a summary of the draft conditions, details on how to submit comments,” among others. 

Their report notes that “numerous comments were submitted both in opposition to and support of the draft 401 Certification spoke to issues that are outside the scope of the draft Certification,” including “ACP’s exercise of eminent domain and its impact on private property rights; the connection pipeline transportation projects and increased hydraulic fracking of gas; impacts to rural and forest view sheds; negative impact to property values,” and a myriad of others.

On the other side of the conversation, DEQ says “numbers of other commenters have expressed support for the project based on issues including opportunity for economic development, manufacturing and job creation; increased safety of pipeline transportation compared to overland trucking of natural gas, decreased reliance on coal for energy production, and thoroughness of [Federal Energy Regulatory Commission]’s evaluation of the project.”

If state officials do actually approve the 401 Water Quality Certification, the nine-page document detailing the certification says Virginia DEQ would be concluding that “there is reasonable assurance that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC activities covered by this Certification will be conducted in a manner that will not violate applicable Water Quality Standards.” 

The agency’s documents also point out the pipeline’s October 2017 Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity issued by FERC to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s operators, a certificate heralded by its operators.

“We are very pleased to receive FERC approval for this vitally important project,” Leslie Hartz, Dominion Energy’s Vice President, Engineering & Construction said in a statement following FERC’s approval. “This is the most significant milestone yet for a project that will bring jobs, economic growth and cleaner energy to our region. In the coming days, we will fully review the Certificate and finalize our plans for complying with its conditions. We will also continue working with the other state and federal agencies to complete the environmental review process and make this critically important project a reality.”

While the Dec. 11 and 12 meeting is open to the public, officials with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality said that public comments will only be limited to those who have already made comments during the course of the public comment period earlier this year, which is estimated to be roughly 15,000 people.

According to officials with the pipeline, they expect the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to be operating in early 2019.

Copyright 2017 by Womack Publishing
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