Category Archives: Conservation Easements

2017 in Review

2017 was a busy year in the pipeline fight. Here are some highlights – there are a lot!

On December 30, 2016, FERC released the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline. In response to requests from numerous elected officials and organizations, FERC extended the usual 45-day period for public comment so the deadline was April 6, 2017. Over January-March 2017 FERC held public hearings on the DEIS, where the majority of speakers (once beyond Dominion’s front-loaded supporters) pointed out omissions and inaccuracies in the DEIS, as well as numerous instances where Dominion had not provided required information. Thousands of groups and individuals, some property owners along the route and others not, filed comments with FERC.

On January 5, 2017, the Buckingham County Board of Supervisors ignored their constituents so thoroughly that after five hours of testimony almost totally opposed to the ACP compressor station in Buckingham County, they read a PREPARED statement approving the station, having obviously reached their decision well ahead of the meeting. On February 2 a complaint for declaratory relief was filed against the Supervisors and Dominion asking that the special use permit for the station be vacated.

FERC Commissioner Norman Bay resigned on February 3, and with only two remaining commissioners, FERC no longer had a quorum and could not issue decisions.

Judge Michael T. Garrett ruled in Nelson County Circuit Court on February 6, 2017, that Dominion may have access to survey for the proposed ACP on the property of landowners who had steadfastly denied access. The landowners filed a joint notice of appeal with the Virginia State Court of Appeals in early March.

On February 15 Oil Change International released two studies finding that if built, the controversial Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast pipelines would together contribute as much greenhouse gas pollution as 45 coal-fired power plants — some 158 million metric tons a year. ACP basic facts: http://priceofoil.org/2017/02/15/atlantic-coast-pipeline-greenhouse-gas-emissions-briefing/ ACP full briefing: http://priceofoil.org/content/uploads/2017/02/atlantic_coast_pipeline_web_final_v3.pdf

In mid-March, Friends of Nelson released the Steep Slope Report by Blackburn Consulting Services, which concluded that “Dominion has not adequately identified those soils and landforms that are prone to debris flows (and) landslides.” The report also states that “the potential for debris flows in the very steep mountainous portions of Nelson County is underestimated by the reports submitted to FERC by Dominion.” Steep Slopes Study by Blackburn Consulting:
http://friendsofnelson.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Final-Steep-Slope-Report-March-2017.pdf

On April 5 Friends of Nelson submitted comments to FERC on the DEIS – 96 pages including charts, diagrams, maps, and photos. Read it here: http://elibrary.FERC.gov/idmws/file_list.asp?accession_num=20170405-5161

On April 6, Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality announced that both proposed Virginia pipelines, the ACP and the MVP, would be subject to DEQ water-quality review. This meant that DEQ would require water quality certifications under Section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act for each segment of both projects that crosses or potentially affects water bodies. But the next day, on April 7, 2017, DEQ provided water quality certification for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 2017 Nationwide Permits, thus issuing a blanket Clean Water Act section 401 certification for pipelines that are covered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Nationwide Permit number 12. And in late May DEQ said they would not require specific water quality impact analysis for water crossings for the proposed ACP or MVP. On June 5, the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition (DPMC) filed suit against the DEQ in state Circuit Court for the City of Richmond, asking the court to rule that DEQ issued a Clean Water Act section 401 Water Quality Certification for construction of utility lines, including natural gas pipelines, in state waters without legal authority to do so and without ensuring water quality would be protected.

On April 27, a briefing paper released details on how Dominion intends to blast away, excavate, and partially remove entire mountaintops along 38 miles of Appalachian ridgelines as part of ACP construction, flattening them by anywhere from 10 to 60 feet. See http://friendsofnelson.com/press-release-acp-would-require-extensive-mountaintop-removal/

June 17-July 2: Walking the Line. Group walks the proposed ACP path for 150 miles, through Bath, Augusta and Nelson Counties, into the heart of Virginia, Buckingham County, where the walk ends at Union Hill, the site of the proposed compressor station.

On June 29, 2017, the Virginia Conservation Network, along with its partners Southern Environmental Law Center and Shenandoah Valley Network, sent a letter (signed by over 80 organizations) to Governor McAuliffe, DEQ Director David Paylor and the State Water Control Board asking them to use their full authority under the Clean Water Act to conduct a thorough and transparent review of stream and wetland crossings along the proposed ACP and MVP fracked gas pipeline routes and ensure that Virginia water quality standards are met.

And then there was one: Friday June 30, 2017, was FERC Commissioner Colette Honorable’s final day at FERC. Although a pair of Trump administration nominees remain on the sidelines awaiting Senate votes, Honorable’s a departure leaves the already quorumless panel with a single member.

At their meeting on July 4, members of Wintergreen Property Owners Association voted overwhelmingly for a new covenant prohibiting construction of “any lines, facilities, structures, or other appurtenances related to the transmission of utilities” if they do not provide services to the Association or its members.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued its final Environmental Impact Statement on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline on July 21, 2017. FERC has 90 days to make a decision on issuing a certificate of approval for the project. The full statement can be found here: https://ferc.gov/industries/gas/enviro/eis/2017/07-21-17-FEIS.asp. The summary statement from FERC staff said, “The FERC staff concludes that construction and operation of ACP and SHP would result in some adverse effects,” but that with adherence to mitigation measure and FERC staff recommendations “most, but not all of these impacts, would be reduced to less-than-significant levels.” FERC said their determinations were based on information provided by Dominion and ACP, with no mention of extensive contradictory information filed by a variety of experts.

Also on July 21, the U.S. Forest Service issued a draft Record of Decision to authorize the use and occupancy of National Forest System lands for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The Forest Service release statement is available at: https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fseprd551404.pdf.

In July Friends of Nelson posted interactive maps showing the ACP route through Nelson County. See http://friendsofnelson.com/information-resources/maps/

Through August, DEQ held public hearings to receive comments on draft water quality certifications designed to protect water quality along the routes of the proposed ACP and MVP.

On August 3, 2017, the Senate voted to confirm Donald Trump’s nominees for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), Neil Chatterjee and Rob Powelson. They join Cheryl LaFleur, who had been the sole member of the five member commission, so FERC now has a quorum.

In mid-August, Friends of Nelson submitted extensive comments to DEQ on the proposed 401 Water Quality Certifications for the ACP. See http://friendsofnelson.com/friends-of-nelson-submits-comments-to-deq/ And a group of thirteen expert scientists and engineers submitted reports to the DEQ on August 22, finding that DEQ has failed in its duty to properly analyze and protect against the water quality damages the Mountain Valley Pipeline and Atlantic Coast Pipeline would cause to Virginia’s waters. See http://friendsofnelson.com/failure-to-meet-minimum-standards-of-scientific-proof/

On August 22, the Virginia Supreme Court agreed without argument to hear on appeal the survey suit against the ACP brought on behalf of six Nelson residents by Lollar Law. Briefings will take place in autumn 2017, and the oral arguments before the full seven-justice court will take place in late 2017 or early 2018. See http://friendsofnelson.com/virginia-supreme-court-to-hear-survey-case/

On August 22 in a 2-1 ruling, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) did not properly analyze the climate impact from burning the natural gas that a Florida pipeline project would deliver to power plants.

A lawsuit, filed September 5 in Washington D.C. federal district court, on behalf of 57 Landowners, Bold Alliance and Friends of Nelson, challenged the constitutionality of the eminent domain provisions of the Natural Gas Act, and seeking to end the unconstitutional and unconscionable process of taking citizens’ private property via eminent domain for a corporation’s profits — and not for “the public good” as the Constitution intended.

September 15-17: No Pipeline Action Camp held in Nelson County, sponsored by Friends of Nelson, Greenpeace, and Blue Ridge Rapid Response.

In mid-September North Carolina delayed by three months its decision on certification of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline under section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act. This followed West Virginia’s September 7 announcement that the state was vacating its water quality certification for the proposed MVP in order to reevaluate. Virginia’s DEQ pressed ahead, even as other states hit the brakes.

In late September, Dan Weekley, Dominion Energy’s vice president and general manager of Southern pipeline operations, told attendees at an energy conference ‘everybody knows’ the Atlantic Coast Pipeline — currently slated to pass through Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina — is not going to stop there, despite what the current plans say, and that the ACP will be extended into South Carolina.

The NC DEQ disapproved the erosion and sedimentation control plan submitted to the agency by the ACP, Their September 26, 2017, letter of disapproval, cites 17 specific deficiencies in the submitted plan as grounds for disapproval.

Late on Friday evening October 13, FERC approved both the ACP and the MVP. Authorization had been widely expected by both supporters and opponents of the pipelines. The certificates granted by the commission came with dozens of conditions, and other necessary permits for both projects are still pending. The approval was issued with a highly unusual dissenting opinion by Commissioner Cheryl A. LaFleur. The FERC permit is not the final word on the projects. VA, NC and WV must still issue environmental permits.

Meeting in Richmond on October 16, the Virginia Outdoors Foundation (VOF) voted to approve Dominion’s application for 11 land conversions of open-space easements on the route of the proposed ACP through southern Highland, northern Bath, Augusta and Nelson counties, and approved a single swap for the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline near Roanoke.

On October 18 Dominion released a proposed construction plan, see http://friendsofnelson.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Dominion-construction-plan20171018-5002-32464467.pdf, When they sent their original “we want your land” letters in spring 2014, Dominion planned to start construction of the ACP in the Fall of 2016 and have the pipeline in service sometime early in 2018. But Dominion did not expect so many people and organizations to fight back!

On November 2, 2017, the Senate approved Trump’s final two nominees to FERC, giving the Commission the full five members for the first time in two years.

On November 13, a motion was filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) requesting a rehearing of the Commission’s order issuing a certificate for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The petition, filed on behalf of 22 organizations (including Friends of Nelson) and 10 individuals. See https://www.abralliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Petition_for_Rehearing_to_FERC_20171113.pdf.

On November 14 Friends of Nelson filed a Request for Rehearing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on FERC’s decision to issue a Certificate of Convenience and Necessity for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The filing is on behalf of 63 property owners and citizens of Nelson County, and 4 community organizations.

The NAACP released a report on November 14, Fumes Across the Fence Line: The Health Impacts of Air Pollution from Oil & Gas Facilities on African American Communities. “The life-threatening burdens placed on communities of color near oil and gas facilities are the result of systemic oppression perpetuated by the traditional energy industry, which exposes communities to health, economic, and social hazards. Communities impacted by oil and gas facility operations remain affected due to energy companies’ heavy polluting, low wages for dangerous work, and government lobbying against local interests.”

On November 17, the US Forest Service released a final Record of Decision (ROD) approving amendments to the Forest Plans for the Monongahela National Forest and the George Washington National Forest to accommodate the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP).

Late in the afternoon on December 7, 2017, after two days of hearings, the Virginia State Water Control Board approved water quality certification for the Mountain Valley Pipeline. The vote was 5-2, with members Roberta Kellam and G. Nissa Dean dissenting.

On December 12, 2017, the Virginia State Water Control Board voted 4 to 3 to approve certification under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. However, the approval does not immediately grant the 401 water permits requested by Dominion; it is subject to certain conditions and to information which must be provided by the ACP. The permit can’t take effect until several additional studies are reviewed and approved by DEQ, including soil and erosion control plans and stormwater management plans. Although this is not an outright denial of the permits, it does not allow Dominion to move forward at this time.

SO…. As we move into fourth year of the pipeline fight, we know the ACP is closer to receiving all final approvals, but we continue our work to stop this economically unnecessary and environmental damaging project. Legal challenges to some approvals have already been filed, more are being evaluated. No, the pipeline is NOT a done deal.

Wilson County NC Voices Concern Over “Development Dead Zone”

The October 17, 2017 Wilson Times reports that “”Wilson County commissioners unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday calling for Atlantic Coast Pipeline officials to be more transparent in their dealings with property owners and local government when it comes to development and safety issues. Commissioners expressed reservations on several issues related to the pipeline project and its officials Tuesday, including a ‘development dead zone’ in Wilson County, full and complete disclosures and transparency in project planners’ dealings with property owners and the pipeline’s quality of construction and safety.

“Commissioner say ACP officials failed to inform property owners or local government that there is an ‘industry [effort] to create a “consultation planning zone” which extends 660 feet from the center of any high pressure natural gas pipeline,’ according to the resolution. The purpose of the zone or corridor is to ‘restrict development’ within those parameters for the ‘lifetime of the pipeline,’ the resolution states.

“Property owners within that zone have not been offered compensation for restrictions placed on their property outside of the construction and permanent easements, commissioners said. They say these types of development restrictions will severely affect the value of land and property owned by county residents. That planning zone, according to the resolution, would create a ‘development dead zone’ 1,300 feet wide by 12 miles long running through the heart of western Wilson County. And that would lower property values and ‘adversely affect’ both residents and Wilson County as a whole.”

Read the full article here.

Virginia Outdoors Foundation Approves Easement Swaps

Meeting in Richmond on October 16, 2017, the Virginia Outdoors Foundation (VOF) voted to approve Dominion’s application for 11 land conversions of open-space easements on the route of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline through southern Highland, northern Bath, Augusta and Nelson counties, and approved a single swap for the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline near Roanoke.

The VOF Web page discusses the vote:

“In the resolutions approving the applications, the trustees said that, while the developers failed to demonstrate the projects are “essential to the orderly development and growth of the locality” under section 1704 of the Virginia Open-space Land Act, this requirement is superseded and preempted by the federal Natural Gas Act that authorizes FERC’s certificate process. The Natural Gas Act does not, however, strip VOF’s authority to review the projects and require substitute land of greater conservation value under Virginia law.

“The two resolutions, which were adopted 5-0 and 7-0 (two trustees abstained during the ACP vote for personal reasons), included several conditions. Among them are restrictions on the footprint of the pipelines and access roads, the conveyance to VOF of more than 1,100 acres of substitute land in Highland, Nelson, and Roanoke counties, and the transfer of $4.075 million in stewardship funding for the properties’ long-term care and maintenance.

“The staff reports describing the substitute lands can be found here: Hayfields report (ACP); Rockfish River report (ACP); Poor Mountain report (MVP).

“As a result of these approvals, the VOF easements will remain in place on the properties with overlaying permanent rights-of-way for the pipeline developers.

“‘After three years of exhaustive review, several public meetings, and hundreds of comments from the public, our board felt that utilizing the long-established conversion process in state law was preferable to forcing the developers to condemn our easements through eminent domain,’ says VOF Executive Director Brett Glymph. ‘Their decision was a difficult one, but they firmly believe this outcome is in the best interests of both the public and the long-term sustainability of Virginia’s open-space conservation program.'”

According to coverage in The Recorder, “During the two-hour closed session preceding the approval, the board grappled with the question of whether VOF can defend the easements through a federal process and whether the land swap proposal was subject to the state law allowing for easement swaps. In the end, the board found the proposal did not qualify under the section 1704 law permitting the swap but nonetheless ruled FERC’s certificate preempts ‘any authority of VOF to evaluate the project,’ the substitute land at Hayfields Farm in Highland is of greater value and the swaps will result in a net gain of open space.”

The speakers opposing the swaps said they would show a lack of stewardship, would redefine “in perpetuity,” and that VOF’s approval would negatively affect future conservation easements.

It remains to be seen how many future landowners will be unwilling to put their property in conservation easements because they no longer trust VOF to keep its promises.

Comment to VOF


Decisions will be made by the Virginia Outdoors Foundation Board of Trustees on applications presented by Dominion to convert open spaces on 10 tracts that lie in the path of the proposed ACP that are protected by conservation easements. Dominion should not be allowed to dishonor or disrupt the conservation easements set in place in Nelson, Augusta, Highland, and Bath counties. You can submit comments online through October 16, 2017, here: http://www.virginiaoutdoorsfoundation.org/comments/ or email them to comments@vofonline.org. The Trustees meeting on October 16 is open to the public, see our Events page listing for details.

Virginia Outdoors Foundation Will Consider Conversions


The Virginia Outdoors Foundation (VOF) has scheduled a special meeting of its Board of Directors for October 16, 2017, 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. at the Virginia State Corporation Commission, 1300 East Main, Richmond. The meeting is for VOF to “complete its review of conversion applications related to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Mountain Valley Pipeline.”

In 2016 the ACP developers told VOF that in order for their route to avoid Forest Service land, it would need to cross 10 easements in Highland, Bath, Augusta and Nelson counties. And the MVP, although it does not want to route its proposed pipeline across the property itself, does want a permanent access road on a VOF conservation easement in Roanoke County. VOF has told both ACP and MVP that such incursions are incompatible with the conservation values of the easements. There is a process in state law known as “conversion” of open space, whereby acreage under easement is swapped for other acreage elsewhere which is then put under conservation easement. Both ACP and MVP submitted conversion proposals, and at its February 2017 meeting, after hearing presentations from the developers, VOF staff, and affected landowners, and receiving comments from hundreds of citizens. VOF’s board of trustees voted to defer a decision on applications presented by Dominion to convert open space on 10 easements that lie in the path of the proposed ACP.

The special meeting will be open to the public and VOF will accept written comments on the conversion applications through October 16, 2017. To submit written comments you may use the VOF online form, you may email comments to comments@vofonline.org, or you may mail them to the VOF Warrenton office at 39 Garrett St., Suite 200, Warrenton, VA 20186.

The details of the meeting are still being finalized and are subject to change through October 13, 2017. Check the VOF meeting page for details, changes, and further information.

Construction and Safety Risks on Steep Slopes


Although this September 2, 2017, Roanoke Times article is about the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline, the same issues of steep slope construction will be faced by the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline. As indicated in this article, MVP seems to say that if they can’t do what they want, they will do things that are even worse. We suspect Dominion would use the same tactics.

“Mountain Valley Pipeline reacted forcefully after its plan to establish a permanent access road through a conservation easement on Poor Mountain was nixed by the federal commission reviewing the project. The company’s protest, filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, offers a glimpse of some of the challenges and risks Mountain Valley could face burying a 42-inch diameter natural gas pipeline on remarkably steep slopes in Roanoke County. For example, Mountain Valley described scenarios ‘that would require up to 10 winch tractors daisy-chained together to move a single load of materials, equipment, fuel or personnel up and down the slopes’ if use of the access road is denied.”

Read the full article here.