Category Archives: Conservation Easements

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.

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.