Lynn Limpert says, “I have been working on this for a while. it started as a song but I’m not a very good singer. I thought I’d better share it now if I am ever going to.”
On Friday October 11, 2019, in a consent issued by Henrico Circuit Court, Mountain Valley Pipeline agreed to pay $2.15 million to resolve the lawsuit by Virginia regulators that accused it of repeatedly violating environmental standards during MVP construction. The suit was filed in December 2018 for “violations of the commonwealth’s environmental laws and regulations at sites in Craig, Franklin, Giles, Montgomery, and Roanoke Counties.”
The agreement requires the company to submit to court-ordered and supervised compliance with regulations meant to curb sediment and erosion and stipulates automatic fines for further violations. It further stipulates that “MVP, at its expense, shall retain a third-party Environmental Auditor to provide on-site monitoring of instream invertebrate and fisheries resources during all construction activity related to waterbody and wetland crossings and document instream conditions and any impacts to the resources.” Depending on the event, fines of anywhere from $500/day to $26,000 may be levied immediately for future violations.
Later the same day, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit put a hold on two permits, the Biological Opinion and Incidental Take Statement, permits the MVP needs to proceed with construction activities. According to the Sierra Club press release, the Court’s announcement effectively means construction must stop on the 300-mile project. On October 15, FERC wrote to MVP, saying in part, “While next steps are determined, Mountain Valley is hereby notified that construction activity along all portions of the Project and in all work areas much cease immediately, with the exception of restoration and stabilization of the right-of-way and work areas, which Commission staff believes will be more protective of the environment, including listed species, than leaving these areas in an unstable condition.”
Speaking of the FERC order, David Sligh, Conservation Director for Wild Virginia said: “The command that Mountain Valley cease all construction immediately is appropriate and necessary to meet the law. However, FERC has previously allowed work that is clearly construction to be done under the guise that it is ‘stabilization.’ The Commission must now act responsibly and clearly prohibit all activities that are not absolutely necessary to protect the environment. FERC must no longer play deceptive games that allow further destruction from a project that cannot protect our resources and may never be completed.”
Mountain Valley Watch (MVW) is a collaboration of volunteers and experts who observe, document, and report environmental issues related to the construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline between Wetzel County, West Virginia, and Pittsylvania County, Virginia.
They have a new map on the front page of their website (https://www.newrivergeographics.com/mvw/) with a visual representation of the volunteer reporting happening along the MVP route. You can zoom in and expand individual submissions and view images.
For the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance’s Compliance Surveillance Initiative (CSI) program Web page (http://abra-csi.org/) includes instructions on how volunteers can become involved in the program, examples of non-compliance issues, and numerous technical resources, including the unique CSI mapping system. There are links to surveillance photographs taken by the ABRA/CSI Pipeline Air Force.
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
- 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.“
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.”
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.