Category Archives: Construction

FERC Should Stop ACP Now

In an open letter to Kimberly Bose, secretary of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and reprinted in the Nelson County Times on August 15, 2019, Helen Kimble and Doug Wellman (President and Vice-President of Friends of Nelson) discuss the potential for hazardous landslides in the steeply mountainous areas on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline route in Nelson County. Some of their letter is reproduced below, but go to the Nelson County Times for the full version.

“A recent public presentation on the potential for hazardous landslides in the mountainous areas of Nelson County VA highlighted longstanding concerns about the dangers of routing the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) through the county’s steep terrain. In this letter, we call your attention to the potential for catastrophic slope failures if ACP overcomes its numerous legal challenges and begins construction. We ask you to consider the following information and its implications for your handling of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

“At a public meeting on June 30, geologist Dr. Anne Witt, geohazards specialist with the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy (DMME), presented her analysis of the landslides triggered in Nelson County by Hurricane Camille in 1969. In that horrific storm event, 125 people are known to have lost their lives as landslides triggered by severe rainfall swept down valleys in the middle of the night carrying whole families to their deaths.

“The information Dr. Witt presented stems from her ongoing research assessing the landslide potential of steep slopes in Nelson and western Albemarle counties. Her work will contribute to a new Virginia Hazard Mitigation Plan being prepared with support from FEMA and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. Using LIDAR (Light Detecting and Ranging) technology to map the bare earth beneath vegetative cover, she unveiled a multitude of historical slides on Nelson’s steep slopes. Noting that previous slides are strong indicators of potential future slides, she concluded that Nelson County’s steep slopes have greater landslide potential than had previously been recognized.

“Dr. Witt’s presentation sharpened the concerns raised by a 2017 study of soil and geologic concerns commissioned by Friends of Nelson and Friends of Wintergreen. The final report by Blackburn Consulting Services, LLC — “Report Analysis and Field Verification of Soil and Geologic concerns with the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) in Nelson County, VA” — was submitted as part of FERC’s EIS review for issuance of the ACP permit. We strongly believe the Blackburn report was not given sufficient consideration in the Commission’s decision.

“Blackburn scientists reviewed the material Dominion submitted to FERC and conducted field analyses of actual conditions in a sample of sites where the pipeline would traverse steep slopes in Nelson County. In their report, Blackburn concluded that: ‘…many of the statements made in the materials submitted to FERC represented gross generalities … [and] … underestimate the true risks that this project imposes on Nelson County and its residents.'”

Key findings of the Blackburn study include [sections on]:

  •  Landform and soil characteristics
  • Mapping soil conditions
  • Vegetation
  • Soil stabilization and erosion control
  • Expansion of the corridor

“The permit the commission issued ACP constitutes a recipe for disaster. Dominion’s ‘best in class’ erosion and sedimentation control measures have failed repeatedly in the work they have already done in West Virginia. Similar stabilization measures employed by the Mountain Valley Pipeline builders have led to over 300 violations, legal action by the Virginia Attorney General, and events like sections of pipe carried great distances by floodwaters. MVP is demonstrating what will likely happen if and when ACP begins construction on Virginia’s steep slopes.” [see article below on MVP landslides]

The letter continues, saying

  • “Dominion assures concerned citizens that the ACP will be safe. However, according to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, 11,993 pipeline failures have been reported in the U.S. over the past two decades.”
  • “At present, two federal permits for the ACP have been vacated. Another three federal permits, as well as two state permits, are in the courts or being challenged.”
  • “Renewable energy generation and storage are emerging as fully competitive with coal and natural gas on a levelized cost basis”
  • “The International Panel on Climate Change’s recent report on climate change — which was soon supported by a report from an interagency panel of U.S. government scientists — made it alarmingly clear that we must quickly shift away from fossil fuels.”
  • “Former FERC commissioner Norman Bay warned overbuilding pipelines would likely result in these unnecessary projects becoming ‘stranded assets’ that profit their builders and stockholders at the cost of captive customers and future generations.”

Overwhelming evidence supports the letter’s concluding sentence: “We call on FERC commissioners to bring a halt to this unnecessary and dangerous project.

Active Landslide Threatens Homes

Photo courtesy of Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance: Pipeline Air Force

An active landslide originating on the Mountain Valley Pipeline right of way on a steep slope has made a house NOT in the construction area uninhabitable.

On July 29, 2019, MVP filed a variance request for slip remediation with FERC, and just 10 days later admitted to FERC that over three months it had been unable to stop the earth movement, requesting “emergency authorization” to stabilize the landslide, because lives were in danger. The letter said, “The progression of the slide caused additional area outside the limits of disturbance to destabilize, uprooted numerous large trees, has the potential to impact an aquatic resource, and has progressed to the point where a residence directly downslope is unsafe to be occupied.”

On August 13, FERC granted MVP’s emergency request, saying, “A recent field inspection by one of our compliance monitors confirms that portions of the slip are still moving and could compromise the residence. The slide must be stabilized before it causes damage or injury to the residence and aquatic resources located down slope of the slide.”

Jonathan Sokolow, in two articles in Medium (Definition of Insanity: Mountain Valley Pipeline Asks for “Emergency Authorization” to Prevent a Life Threatening Landslide on August 9 and Photos of Insanity: Active Landslide Threatens Lives Along Route of Mountain Valley Pipeline on August 15), points out that while this particular landslide is on a steep slope in West Virginia, there are hundreds of similarly steep slopes along the route of the MVP and of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, all with potential for similar landslides threatening lives and residences.

In his August 15 article, Sokolow writes, “Common sense would seem to dictate that emergency inspections be conducted on each steep slope in Virginia and West Virginia to make sure no similar emergencies are developing. Prudence would indicate that all work on the pipeline be stopped until those inspections are complete. Yet in the days since this active ’emergency’ (MVP’s word) became public, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, whose job is to inspect and regulate this project, has said or done nothing. Governor Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring have been silent. In fact, most elected officials in Virginia seems to be ignoring this brewing disaster. In other words, regulators refuse to regulate, and leaders refuse to lead. We now have photos of this crime scene, but no thanks to government officials. We have photos thanks to ordinary citizens and an incredible effort known as the ‘Pipeline Air Force,’ a project of the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance. …. Virginia has the power to stop work now on the Mountain Valley Pipeline, to stop this misnamed “engineering marvel” before gravity does its work, before someone gets hurt. As we said before, this is an emergency. Just ask MVP.”

DEQ Issues Stop Work on 2-Mile Section of MVP

Following is a statement issued by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality on August 2, 2019.

Contact: Ann Regn, 804-698-4442, Ann.Regn@DEQ.Virginia.gov

DEQ ISSUES STOP WORK ON APPROXIMATELY TWO-MILE SECTION OF MOUNTAIN VALLEY PIPELINE

All ongoing clearing, grading and trenching must stop in this designated area

RICHMOND, Va. – The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has issued a stop work instruction to Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC (MVP). The instruction is based on issues identified during DEQ inspections that cite insufficient erosion and sediment controls on approximately a two-mile section of the project in Spread H in Montgomery County.

Based on a DEQ inspection conducted on Thursday, Aug. 1, the agency has determined that an imminent and substantial adverse impact to water quality is likely to occur as a result of land-disturbing activities. Specifically, MVP has failed to construct and maintain erosion and sediment control or pollution prevention measures in accordance with approved site-specific plans and/or the erosion and sediment control measures that have been installed are not functioning effectively and MVP has not proposed any corrective action.

Work in this section will be suspended until these corrective actions are installed and approved by DEQ through field inspection and verification. MVP must stop all land disturbing activities in this area including clearing, grading and trenching activities in the designated area. The only activity currently authorized in this area is work necessary to install and maintain erosion control devices as required by the approved site-specific erosion and sediment control plans, and the annual standards and specifications.

“We are appalled that construction priorities and deadline pressures would ever rise above the proper and appropriate use of erosion control measures,” said DEQ Director David Paylor. “DEQ will continue to monitor and inspect all ongoing work to ensure continued compliance and protection of Virginia’s natural resources.”

For more information and the full stop work instruction, visit www.DEQ.Virginia.gov/MVP

Press coverage in the Roanoke Times is here. The Roanoke Times article says, “Environmental advocate Russell Chisholm said in a release that he was ‘appalled’ that the company’s skimping on control measures to advance the project surprised the DEQ. Citizens have repeatedly reported similar lapses in permit compliance for at least a year.”    His statement noted that “In response to citizen reports, ‘those in positions of power chose to ignore our calls for real, meaningful enforcement through a stop work order and instead allowed MVP to work despite several missing federal permits, a pending lawsuit for violations, and at least 35 Notices of Violation in West Virginia.'”


An additional blow to MVP on August 2, 2019, came from federal district court Judge Elizabeth Dillon, who denied the pipeline company’s request for an order removing tree sitters on the route.  See Jonathan Sokolow’s report.

SELC Asks FERC to Halt ACP Construction

On July 31, 2019, the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) asked FERC to stop ACP construction because of the July 26 ruling from the 4th Circuit Court that voided the US Fish and Wildlife Service permit.

SELC said, “Allowing continued construction violates the Endangered Species Act’s (‘ESA’s’) prohibition on engaging in actions likely to jeopardize a species. It places the Commission at risk of an unauthorized take of endangered species. It risks substantial environmental harm by constructing facilities that might have to be relocated or abandoned if the pipeline route is modified. And it violates the condition of the Commission’s certificate of public convenience and necessity that Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC (‘Atlantic’) obtain all applicable authorizations required under federal law before commencing construction.”

In their letter, SELC explained the five reasons why FERC cannot rely on the ACP’s temporary work stoppage to address the four issues in the paragraph above.

  • The Commission may not authorize any action that is likely to jeopardize the continued existence of an endangered species.
  • In permitting construction, the Commission risks taking species in violation of the ESA. Section 9 of the ESA similarly prohibits the “take” of endangered and threatened species.
  • Allowing construction of pipeline facilities that might have to be relocated or abandoned risks unnecessary environmental harm.
  • The Commission cannot permit construction where Atlantic lacks federal authorizations that are mandatory conditions of its certificate.
  • Atlantic’s voluntary work stoppage does not satisfy the Commission’s obligation to halt construction in light of these significant issues.

Read SELC’s letter here.

Fish and Wildlife Permit Vacated by 4th Circuit


An Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance email distributed early on July 27, 2019, comments on the Fourth Circuit Court’s opinion vacating the Fish and Wildlife Service permit:

The Fourth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals Friday struck down the latest permit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) had issued for the the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP). The issue arose from a requirement in the Endangered Species Act that (quoting from the decision) “the proposed pipeline will not jeopardize the continued existence of several endangered and threatened species that are likely to be impacted by pipeline construction. As relevant here, the Biological Opinion concluded that the pipeline will not jeopardize four species: the rusty patched bumble bee, clubshell, Indiana bat, or Madison Cave isopod.” The FWS issued an opinion in 2017 stating that the ACP did not endanger any endangered species. The permit was challenged in a lawsuit filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) on behalf of the Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club and the Virginia Wildlife Committee (the latter two organizations being ABRA members).

In response to that legal challenge the Fourth Circuit in May 2018 vacated the FWS permit, which it explained in its opinion (not issued until August 6) that the “FWS’s vague and unenforceable take limits are arbitrary and capricious.” The agency reissued a new permit in September 2018, which was again challenged by the same plaintiffs. The Fourth Circuit stayed the new permit and, in response to that, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC suspended all construction of the project in late 2018.. The case decided Friday was argued on May 9, 2019 (see ABRA Update #229, May 10, 2019).

In today’s decision, the Fourth Circuit stated:

Specifically, Petitioners assert that FWS improperly determined that pipeline construction will not jeopardize the rusty patched bumble bee or the clubshell, and they challenge the validity of the take limits imposed for the Indiana bat and the Madison Cave isopod. Because we find that FWS arbitrarily reached its no-jeopardy conclusions and failed to correct the deficiencies in the take limits that we identified in the previous appeal, we grant the petition and vacate the 2018 Biological Opinion and Incidental Take Statement.

In a statement released Friday afternoon, SELC stated:

“In its rush to help this pipeline company, the agency failed to protect species on the brink of extinction – its most important duty. This pipeline would blast through some of the last populations of these rare animals,” said Patrick Hunter, attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “There is no evidence that this pipeline is needed for anything other than Dominion and Duke Energy profits. For the sake of these rare species and its customers’ wallets, it’s time for these utilities to walk away from this badly planned boondoggle.”

Construction on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline has been stopped since December 2018 when multiple permits were called into question or overturned including permits from the Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, Forest Service, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Those permits are all still outstanding. Among the problems for this pipeline is a Federal Court decision that the Forest Service erred in allowing the pipeline to carve through national forests and was not authorized to allow the project to cross the Appalachian Trail. There is no clear path forward to construct the pipeline on its current route. The project is several years behind schedule and more than $2 billion dollars over budget. If constructed, ratepayers will be expected to pay for the pipeline while the energy companies collect a 15% profit.

Quoted in Charlottesville’s July 27, 2019, Daily Progress article, Dominion spokesperson Aaron Ruby said, “Based on the clear direction provided by the court in today’s opinion, we expect FERC and the Fish and Wildlife Service will be able to immediately begin working to correct the issues identified by the court. Once the new Biological Opinion and Incidental Take Statement are issued, we will seek the necessary approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to resume construction. We’re confident we remain on track to complete the project by late 2021.”

The Daily Progress article says, “If the Fish and Wildlife Service were to issue a new permit, Dominion has said it would begin building the pipeline from Buckingham County to the southeastern Virginia coast, connecting it to Hampton Roads and extending it through eastern North Carolina. The company plans to build a natural gas compressor station at Union Hill in Buckingham under a state air pollution permit that environmental groups also have appealed to the 4th Circuit. Separately, Dominion and its partners have petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review another opinion by the same federal appeals panel last December that threw out a U.S. Forest Service permit to allow the pipeline to cross beneath the Appalachian Trail between Augusta and Nelson counties.”

Catalog of Disasters

In an article published July 17, 2019, DC Media Group reports on the catalog of disasters inflicted by the Mountain Valley Pipeline on the LaFerriere family and their Blackberry Springs Farm in West Virginia. In September 2018, despite cease and desist orders, the organic farm was showered repeatedly with pellets of Earth Guard Edge dropped from helicopters. The pellets are an erosion control product containing acrylamide, a carcinogen. LaFerriere, his wife and children, and an intern were all struck by the pellets while harvesting ginseng a quarter mile from the MVP right of way, with resulting contusions and lacerations. Specialists said nothing could be done to mitigate the damage, since once the pellet gets wet, it gets into the soil.  The organic status of the farm has been jeopardized.

“MVP is required to adhere to an Organic Management Plan it filed with FERC, but LaFerriere said they still hadn’t provided him with any information with regard to its implementation. He claims he hasn’t been allowed to speak with the expert from the International Organic Inspectors Association hired by MVP–who has been out to the property twice–and he still hasn’t received a complete list of materials that MVP would be using on the farm. MVP also wouldn’t tell him much about the pale green coating on the 42″ diameter pipeline. His concern about the coating degrading and contaminating the soil and water is shared by FERC, which last week sent a letter to MVP asking about its safety after two years of sitting in the sun.”

Last year, LaFerriere asked for 72 hours notice before MVP cut trees in the right-of-way so he could move some materials. They failed to give notice, and felled trees on the materials, ruining them. MVP had to pay to replace them.

MVP maintains they have “retained an organic consultant to train workers and environmental inspectors and monitor construction activities and remediation. LaFerriere said that no monitors or inspectors have been introduced to them, and he has not seen anyone on site that he can identify as a organically trained monitor.”

Because Laferriere believed MVP wasn’t honoring its organic management plan requirements, he sent yet another cease and desist order; MVP representatives agreed to meet with him, but cancelled at the last minute.

On July 16, only an hour after the scheduled (ten cancelled) meeting meant to discuss the Laferriere’s concerns over MVP’s failure to adhere to the organic management plan requirements, “an excavator operating on the right-of-way tipped over onto its side. The excavator was on relatively flat terrain, not on a steep hill or slope, LaFerriere said. Fluids spilled out, and nearly 20 workers were required to bag soil that was contaminated. He didn’t observe any barrier or protective silt socks put in place to contain the spill. The driver was able to exit the excavator and walk away with the assistance of co-workers.”

The article notes that, “Problems with MVP construction have not been limited to Blackberry Springs Farm. MVP was cited with more than 300 violations by the end of 2018 alone. As a consequence, many of the pipeline’s permits have been revoked. FERC has approved 125 requests by MVP to deviate from its original work plan, and most appear to be related to efforts correct erosion events.”

Also in recent days, MVP construction materials in Virginia were swept down the Blackwater River by heavy rains, ending up in Smith Mountain Lake, where they are a safety hazard, particularly for boaters. Because of its many violations in Virginia, attorney general Mark Herring filed a civil lawsuit against MVP in October 2018. But because he refuses to issue a stop work order, construction and the resulting devastation continues.

Read the full DC Media Group article here.

Related article in the July 15, 2019 Virginia Mercury, MVP’s violations show ‘complete absence of any and all meaningful regulation’