Category Archives: Conservation Easements

Seven Groups Urge FERC to protect VOF Conservation Easements

In Joint Comments filed with FERC on July 14, 2017, seven groups urged FERC to include in the final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the ACP a recommendation that the ACP alter its proposal to avoid Virginia Outdoors Foundation (VOF) open-space easements, the same approach to protecting VOF easements that FERC recently took with the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP).

The Comments state, “One issue of common and significant concern is the impact the proposed ACP route would have on ten open-space easements held by VOF and, by extension, the Commonwealth of Virginia’s open space land protection program. The proposed route that Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC (Atlantic) is pursuing for the ACP would cross ten VOF open-space easements, permanently impacting 54.6 acres of protected property and damaging another 73.8 acres of these properties with construction access roads and other related disturbances. These are just the direct impacts to these parcels; there would also be substantial and irreversible indirect impacts. As VOF has made clear, such a major intrusion on VOF open-space easements would not only impair the conservation values of each of the ten affected properties, it could jeopardize the Commonwealth’s investments in conservation and result in a loss of public confidence in the effectiveness of openspace easements.”

The Comment also points out that it is not VOF but the ACP “that has proposed the Hayfields Farm property as potential mitigation for impacts to VOF’s open-space easements, and it has done so as part of its effort to persuade VOF to grant ‘conversions’ of the open-space easements pursuant to a provision of the Virginia Code. Of note, VOF has not acted on Atlantic’s requests.”

The seven groups who signed the Joint Comment are Southern Environmental Law Center, Piedmont Environmental Council, Highlanders for Responsible Development, The Nature Conservancy, Shenandoah Valley Network, Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation, and Cowpasture River Preservation Association.

Read the full filed Comment here.

Excellent Pipeline News Coverage

The Recorder, the weekly newspaper for Highland and Bath counties, provides continually excellent coverage of many issues associated with the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline.  Note:  Access to full text of articles is by subscription only.

The April 6, 2017, issue includes these articles:

  • Citizens group demands withdrawal of pipeline statement — “A citizens group has filed a motion to rescind and revise the draft environmental impact statement for the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline. In a filing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission posted Monday, Friends of the Central Shenandoah states the draft EIS either needs to be withdrawn and revised or supplemented to meet the letter of the law.”
  • Stop the Pipeline’ campaign under way — “The Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League and chapters will take to the highways and byways of North Carolina and Virginia for eight days in April on a barnstorming tour of communities threatened by natural gas pipelines.
  • Things are getting real around here – “Highland County supervisors deserved a meeting much sooner. Dominion Resources, which plans to construct an interstate gas pipeline through part of southern Highland, came before the county board last week — three months after a draft Environmental Impact Statement for the project was issued in late December. Finally, they were given an audience with Dominion officials to ask some questions they’ve posed before, and more specific questions that have not been addressed until now. Of course, the answers were not satisfactory, the way we see it.” The article goes on to discuss in detail the many negatives of the proposed pipeline (and Dominion’s less than helpful answers), including how it goes counter to the county’s comprehensive plan in many aspects, how movement of workers to the proposed construction site would be “equivalent to a third of our entire residents traveling one of only two main arteries into this county, for 10 hours a day, six days a week, for about two years,” Dominion’s lack of specific answers on source of the millions of gallons of water needed for testing. And many more issues.

VOF Letter to FERC: ACP Impact Not “Minor”

On March 10, 2017, the Virginia Outdoors Foundation (VOF) wrote FERC reiterating concerns over the proposed crossing of 10 VOF conservation easements. FERC’s DEIS refers to the proposed easement conversions as “minor.” The VOF letter states that “The VOF has consistently taken the position that construction, maintenance and operation of the interstate gas transmission line is inconsistent with the open space protections afforded by the subject easements. Therefore, the construction, operation and maintenance of the ACP will constitute a conversion of the easement property as outlined in Va. Code § 10.11704. VOF has stated on many previous occasions that the impact is very significant and by no means ‘minor’.”

The VOF letter also outlines recommended conditions that should be imposed if FERC approves the proposed ACP. Conditions include permitting only a permanent 50-foot easement for one 42-inch diameter underground natural gas pipeline and the associated permanent access road easement, transfer of properties from ACP to VOF as substitutes for the converted properties, and acceptance of stewardship funds from ACP for management of the substitute properties and to offset VOF’s unreimbursed costs associated with the ACP.

Read the full VOF letter here.

Continuing the Fight

Voices From Bath and Highlanders for Responsible Development co-sponsored a meeting in Highland County on February 1, 2017. at which speakers from five groups discussed the DEIS and offered ways for the many attendees to continue their involvement in the pipeline fight. Speakers included Greg Buppert, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center; Rick Webb, Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition program coordinator; Joe Lovett, attorney and founder of Appalachian Mountain Advocates; Lewis Freeman, Allegheny Blue Ridge Alliance executive director; and Nancy Sorrells, with the Augusta County Alliance. The five agreed FERC had issued an incomplete and inaccurate DEIS.

Greg Buppert said the DEIS “glosses over important impacts. There’s missing information. There’s information that is deferred. But this is the type of impact statement that FERC produces.” He also said the need for the ACP has been exaggerated by a Dominion-created group of businesses. “Our first critical focus will be on the need for this project. There’s evidence that this project is not needed to meet the demand for natural gas. The arrangement of the entities, both building the pipeline and buying the gas, is that they’re all affiliates and subsidiaries of Dominion Resources. You don’t need an advanced degree in economics to know that’s not an arm’s length transaction that’s accurately reflecting the market.”

Rick Webb pointed out an obvious falsehood in the draft EIS. “Here, it says the engineering status and the permitting status are done,” he said. “Both of those are completely false. The engineering is far from being completed and none of the permitting is done.” He also said FERC had dismissed concerns about the potential for water contamination in cavernous karst terrain. “It’s not just where the pipeline crosses. Dominion is only looking at karst features within a certain distance on either side of this corridor. It’s everybody downstream — their water supply is at risk…. Once you get that mud into the subterranean karst system, it takes a long time for it to work its way out.” Webb urged residents downstream from any proposed pipeline activity to write to FERC before the April 6 deadline and request thorough study of potential karst water pollution.

Joe Lovett also urged everyone to file comments to FERC prior to April 6, and asked that they provide copies of their comments and other information to his organization, Appalachian Mountain Advocates. “If you have some data and you think FERC isn’t going to consider it, please let us know, because FERC is obligated to consider all of the relevant information. If they fail to consider it, that’s a flaw and that’s how we win.”

Nancy Sorrells urged landowners to not sell easements and discussed tactics being used by Dominion’s land agents. “This is not a done deal. The land agents who approach you will tell you it’s a done deal and you’d better sign. It’s your right — you don’t even have to talk to them. The spin they put out is pretty incredible. What they try to do is divide and conquer. They’ll say ‘Don’t tell your neighbor, but we’re going to give you a better deal.’ They’ll say ‘If you don’t sign, you’ll be flagged as troublemakers,’ or ‘We’ll just move the pipeline off your property because your neighbors have signed.’ ”

Sorrells distributed an Augusta Alliance information sheet that explains, “Dominion does not have the right to an easement through your property unless FERC grants it the power of eminent domain. That has not happened. Even if FERC ultimately grants Dominion the power of eminent domain (still far from certain), landowners have significant rights involving protection of their property to insure that they are paid the true value of the highest and best use of their property.”

The Augusta Alliance formed the Virginia Easement Action Team, a non-profit education and legal defense group, to assist landowners who do not wish to sell easements to Dominion. More information can be found at www.augustacountyalliance.org.

Virginia Outdoors Foundation Delays Decision on Easement Swap

After a day of public hearings on February 9, 2017, in which overwhelming opposition was heard to Dominion’s proposal to swap open land conservation easement properties to facilitate building the proposed ACP across existing easements, The Virginia Outdoors Foundation (VOF) held a brief closed door meeting and voted unanimously to defer consideration of Dominion’s application. Many speakers recognized the VOF Board’s difficult position, facing intense legal pressure from Dominion on one side, but intense opposition from the public, local Planning and Supervisor’s boards, landowners, and conservation groups on the other.

The Recorder has published an excellent overview of the VOF’s decision and the many comments made at the VOF’s meeting:  “Open-Space Foundation Tables Easement Decision.”

It’s Not Too Late to Voice Your Concerns to VOF!


Do it on or before February 8, 2017!   Because on February 9, 2017, the Virginia Outdoors Foundation (VOF) is scheduled to consider the application by Dominion Transmission, Inc. to receive approval for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to cross 11 conservation easements in Highland, Bath, Augusta and Nelson Counties held by the VOF. State law provides for exceptions to conservation easements, but only if certain criteria are met. We DO NOT believe the Dominion proposal satisfies the requirements of the law. Send your letters or emails (by 5 pm February 8!) to:

Brett Christina Glymph, Executive Director,
39 Garrett St., Suite 200
Warrenton, VA 20186
(540) 347-7727
bglymph@vofonline.org