Category Archives: Construction

Action Alert: Stop Tree Clearing for Pipelines


Call the Governor Today! We can stop tree clearing for pipelines. Let Your Voice Be Heard!

Our new Governor has the authority and duty to protect our waters and our communities from the Mountain Valley Pipeline and Atlantic Coast Pipelines.

Governor Northam must uphold the principles he has supported for many months and we ask that you let him know that you will support him in doing the right thing. It is not too late for Virginia to meet its Clean Water Act duties. Learn More Here.

Contact the Governor today and urge him to:

  • See that his administration prohibits any construction, including clearing of trees, for either pipeline unless and until all conditions of water quality certifications are met,
  • Order the DEQ to conduct individual Clean Water Act section 401 reviews for stream and wetland crossings covered by the Corps of Engineers’ Nationwide 12 Permit,
  • Ensure that DEQ provides for public notice and comment on additional plans ACP is required to submit and that there is a clear procedure for the State Water Control Board to review and decide whether the certification will become effective.

Call the Governor:  
804-786- 2211

or
Email him through his Chief of Staff:
clark.mercer@governor.virginia.gov

ACP Construction Yard in Augusta County

At their January 4, 2018, meeting the Augusta County Board of Zoning Appeals considered Dominion’s application for the required permit to use a 34 acre site in Churchville, currently zoned as agricultural, for two years as a storage yard for ACP construction materials, equipment, fuel and worker trailers. At least 400 workers would be coming and going from the site each day, 6 days a week, and large trucks and equipment would be traveling between the site and the proposed pipeline construction site 10-20 miles away. The property in question is on winding Rt. 42, designated as a Scenic Highway.

About Special Use Permits, the Augusta County General Code says, “No Special Use Permit shall be issued without consideration that, in addition to conformity with any standards set forth in this chapter for Special Use Permit uses, the following general standards will be met either by the proposal made in the application or by the proposal as modified or amended and made part of the Special Use Permit:

  • 1. Conformity with Comprehensive Plan and policies. The proposal as submitted or as modified shall conform to the Comprehensive Plan of the county or to specific elements of such plan, and to official policies adopted in relation thereto, including the purposes of this chapter.
  • 2. Impact on neighborhood. The proposal as submitted or as modified shall not have undue adverse impact on the surrounding neighborhood.”

The Augusta County Comprehensive Plan states, “Agriculture will continue to be the predominant land use in the county and a major part of the economy. The county’s scenic beauty and natural environment will be preserved, with farms, forests, mountains, rivers and streams providing the framework and context for development in the urban areas, and continuing to define the landscape in the rural areas.”

More than 250 people turned out at the BZA meeting to speak against the application, including Ryan Blosser, whose adjacent 4-acre organic farm is downhill, downwind, and downstream from the proposed yard, meaning it no longer would be possible for him to maintain his organic status and the organic CSAs which are his family’s livelihood. When the BZA members asked Dominion if they had discussed their plans with the Blossers, the answer (not surprisingly) was “No.” When they were asked if they were planning on compensating the Blossers for the hardship they were imposing upon them, the answer (again not surprisingly) was “No.” Dominion representatives initially stated at the meeting that they have “no responsibility” to their neighbors. The BZA tabled any decision on the matter and will consider it again at their next regular meeting on February 1 at 1:30.

Read the News Virginian coverage of the meeting here, and read Ryan Blosser’s impassioned letter to the editor here. A Facebook page, Augusta County Standoff, is following the issue. A petition page asks the Augusta Board of Zoning Appeals to turn down the application. You may send email opposing the application to Sandra Bunch (Secretary), sbunch@co.augusta.va.us.

The YouTube video below is a 20-second time lapse of a Rover Pipeline construction yard over a three year period, 2014-2017.

Learning from Lancaster

Listening to the folks in Pennsylvania along the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline now under construction by Williams will teach us a lot about the about false promises and empty assurances made by pipeline companies. Construction has been a destructive, illness-inducing, constantly noisy nightmare. Excerpts from three Lancaster Online articles follow.

12-19-17 Lancaster Online. ‘It’s just constant’: Atlantic Sunrise pipeline company ordered to fix noise, lighting problems in Manor Twp. “Since Nov. 28, residents of about 10 homes near Safe Harbor have had an unwelcome front-row seat to a six-day-a-week, all-night unusual work zone: near-constant drilling under the Conestoga River as part of the Atlantic Sunrise gas pipeline. Drilling on a lesser scale began in early October. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission told LNP on Monday that after resident complaints, a FERC compliance monitor in the last few days confirmed there are indeed noise and lighting problems. The pipeline builder has been ordered to “look into ways to mitigate the situation so the public will not be inconvenienced,” said Tamara Young-Allen, a FERC spokeswoman. Seventy decibels is akin to the sound of a vacuum cleaner. ‘We’re sorry for the inconvenience.’ …. As a result of residents’ complaints, Williams told FERC last week in its weekly summary of pipeline construction that it was investigating new ways to address noise levels at the site, including paying homeowners for the disturbances and offering to relocate them until the drilling is finished. The company said it had installed a sound wall and baffles on equipment on Oct. 24. Two noise readings by the company taken on Dec. 9 were below the 55-decibel action reading, but one from the front door of a home on Witmer Road was 70.2 decibels. …. Pans on the kitchen wall tap each other and rattle from vibrations given off by the drilling under the earth…. All the residents interviewed complained that no one ever approached them to inform them of the impending drilling or what to expect. ‘No one has ever come over here to say here’s what we’re doing. There’s no transparency….’ Residents said they have complained to Williams, Manor Township officials, FERC and a state legislator, but without noticeable results. Ryan Strohecker, Manor Township manager, said he checked the township noise ordinance and found that utilities are exempt. He said jurisdiction with the drilling lies with FERC and the pipeline builder.”

12-30-17 Lancaster Online. Pipeline’s been a sham from the beginning. “My blood is boiling after reading Bad vibrations in the Dec. 19 issue. The article details the noise problems for some residents of Manor Township caused by nonstop drilling under the Conestoga River for the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has ordered the pipeline builder to ‘look into ways to mitigate the situation.’ That’s fantastic. It is kind of like of ordering me to look into buying a Ferrari. It’s just not going to happen.  FERC has the same problem that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission does. It is charged with regulating an industry while simultaneously promoting it. I have an idea for FERC: Do your job, and regulate this travesty. Order Williams to stop construction at night so these people can get some sleep.  I honestly don’t expect Williams or FERC to do anything. The Atlantic Sunrise pipeline has been a sham from the beginning. We were told the natural gas would not be exported — it is all being exported. We were told the project would create high-paid, local jobs — it hasn’t. All the license plates on workers’ vehicles that I have seen are from out of state. We were told the project is about American energy independence — it’s not. It is all about who will pay the most for natural gas.  Fifty years from now, when the natural gas runs out, residents in the Marcellus Shale are left with toxic groundwater and the pipeline is a useless hulk rotting underground, you can be sure none of the companies responsible for it will still be around. They will take their money and run. And the public that is left to deal with this mess? No one will care about them. They got fracked in more ways than one.”

12-16-17 The Morning Call.  What happens when a pipeline is built in your backyard. “The caravan of noise and mayhem arrived a few days before Thanksgiving — several colossal excavators, a backhoe, a bunch of pickup trucks and an otherworldly saw that can slice through a huge tree like a knife through butter. It was ‘Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site,’ a book I read to my grandkids, sprung to life, writ large. …. It’s all very legal, of course, when the pipeline arsenal rolls in on the magic carpet of eminent domain, signed, sealed and delivered by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. That fact doesn’t make it easier when survey flags are planted on your property like little grave markers, orange construction fencing goes up like symbolic barbed wire, and the awful symphony from the earth-ripping machines plays on, even in your dreams.”

What’s Next?


On December 12, 2017, the Virginia State Water Control Board, by 4-3 vote, conditionally approved ACP certification.  The conditional approval, issued formally by the Department of Environmental Quality on December 20, makes it clear that the effective date when ACP construction can start is delayed until several conditions are satisfied:

  • This certification shall be effective only following submission, review and final approval as required by law of the Karst Mitigation Plan, Annual Standards and Specifications, and Erosion and Sediment Control Plans and Stormwater Management Plans, and a report to the Board and the public by DEQ on the adequacy of these materials. The Board may consider further actions on the Certification following the review of the DEQ report.
  • Pursuant to 33 U. S.C. § 1341 (a)(3), the Board reserves the right to impose further conditions if any existing plans and/or mitigation measures are amended by the Owner and/or FERC that may materially reduce the water quality protection provided thereunder.

Dominion thus has a conditional certification, but one which does not allow them to begin construction as planned before the end of 2017. The projected date for completing the required studies is March or April 2018. However, Dominion, regardless of the fact that they do not have the required permits from North Carolina and have only a conditional one from Virginia, wants to start construction preparations immediately. The ACP has asked FERC for permission to begin limited tree cutting. DEQ has given an opinion that under Virginia regulations some cutting may be allowed where the activities do not qualify as “land disturbance.” Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition (DPMC) believes DEQ does have the authority to prohibit any tree cutting that is related to the project and will advocate that view.

Both Friends of Nelson and a group of 13 organizations headed by Shenandoah Valley Network have submitted documents to FERC opposing the ACP’s petition.  They state that:

  • Multiple permits and approvals are outstanding or incomplete, including Clean Water Act Section 401 Certifications in Virginia and North Carolina, the National Historic Preservation Act Section 106 Programmatic Agreement, the Clean Water Act Section 404 permit, formal consultation under the Endangered Species Act, and state erosion and sediment control and stormwater management plans. The Commission also has not resolved numerous requests for rehearing and motions for stay.
  • In North Carolina, state law prohibits tree felling because the state has not fully approved Atlantic’s proposed Erosion and Sedimentation Control Plan. North Carolina has also not issued a Section 401 Certification for the project. And in West Virginia, the Department of Environmental Protection has not approved a required stormwater permit.
  • In Virginia, the State Water Control Board has not issued an effective Section 401 Certification for the project, and therefore, Atlantic does not have the required state approval for tree felling. The Board is not expected to make a final decision on whether to certify the project until March or April 2018 at the earliest.
  • Reviews could result in possible denial of the final permit, changes in the route, or further conditions placed on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. In addition, the Section 106 permits are still outstanding, and while ACP intends to avoid these areas, adjacent properties could potentially be impacted and there is a possibility of minor or significant route changes.

A December 22, 2017 Richmond Times-Dispatch article, Atlantic Coast Pipeline wants to start cutting down trees, discusses Dominion’s petition to FERC to begin tree cutting, outlines the stated position of the North Carolina and Virginia DEQ, and describes the objections of pipeline opponents.  The article quotes from “the filing submitted by the Southern Environmental Law Center in Charlottesville on behalf of more than a dozen conservation groups. ‘At this point, it is unknown whether Atlantic will obtain all of the necessary approval and permits to move forward with its project,” the document says. “The commission must reject Atlantic’s attempts to cut corners and pre-empt state authority by denying the company’s premature request.’”

Although DEQ has said some cutting may be allowed where the activities do not qualify as “land disturbance,” the article also reports that SELC’s filing, “citing the DEQ’s own stormwater management handbook, notes that ‘interception,’ the amount of rainfall that fails to reach the ground because it gets caught in the tree canopy and evaporates, plays a crucial role in reducing runoff.  ‘Clearing removes the vegetation that intercepts, slows and returns rainfall to the air through evaporation,’ the handbook says, according to the filing. ‘As Virginia DEQ has acknowledged, “raindrops hit the exposed soil like tiny bombs,”’ the opponents argued, citing a DEQ document called Fundamentals of Erosion and Runoff.  Asked to respond to those contentions, Golden [DEQ’s director of operations] said he had no comment.”

Read DPMC’s post, What Did the Water Control Board Do?
The Virginia DEQ December 20, 2017, 401 Water Quality Certification (conditional) is here.
The ACP petition to FERC for permission to begin cutting trees is here.
Friends of Nelson letter to FERC opposing Dominion’s tree cutting is here.
The filing to FERC by Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of Shenandoah Valley Network and others opposing tree cutting is here.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch article is here.

Dominion Sues to Condemn Properties

On December 12, 2017, NBC29 reported that Dominion had begun the process to take land for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline by asking a federal court to allow it to use eminent domain for certain properties along the proposed route. Some of the affected landowners first learned of the suits against them from news reports.

Jonathan Sokolow’s article in Blue Virginia on December 18, 2017, has the eye-catching headline, Dominion Sues to Condemn Ralph Northam’s Family Farm to Build the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Everything but the Ralph Northam part is true – but less well known and less powerful Virginians are not so lucky.

“Dominion, the main company behind the ACP, is not deterred by the fact that the Virginia State Water Control Board just refused to issue a permit to start construction until further studies are completed. Nor is Dominion deterred by the fact that three of the seven members of the Board voted outright to kill the project – meaning one more no vote in the future, which is very possible, would stop the pipeline in its tracks. These facts did not prevent Dominion from ruining the holiday season of many Virginians.”

Sokolow writes about property owners with 2 acres, 5 acres, 10 acres “sued by Dominion in federal court on December 8 in an action to ‘condemn’ – that’s the word Dominion uses -” their properties. Dominion also sued Variety Shade Landowners of Virginia to condemn a 1.86 plot they own – ironic, because Variety Shade previously sold Dominion 68 acres in Buckingham to build the massive compressor station. But Dominion now wants that additional 1.86 acres.

Imagine you own and live on one of these small plots. “Dominion wants ‘immediate entry and possession’ of the property. It claims that it ‘must begin construction of the ACP project as soon as possible’ because that is the timetable Dominion set. Dominion wants the unfettered right to ‘construct, operate, maintain, replace, repair, remove or abandon the ACP Project’ – yes, they want to reserve the right to abandon the project – and it wants the right to ‘change the location of the installed pipeline’ on the property ‘as may be necessary or advisable.’ …. Dominion wants the right to enter and leave the property ‘through any existing roads on the Property’ – for example, a driveway – and that Dominion intends to use those roads ‘to transport pipe, vehicles, machinery, persons, equipment, or other materials to and from’ the property. And Dominion seeks a court order to allow it ‘to fell trees and clear brush or other vegetation as necessary.’ …. Dominion tells the court that the owner of the property can still live there and use his property ‘in any manner that will not interfere with the use and enjoyment of Atlantic’s rights.'”

Yes, the rightful owners may use the property as long as they do not interfere with Dominion’s “use and enjoyment.” And to top it off, Dominion says it would suffer “irreparable harm” if the properties are not condemned immediately, while the harm to landowners would be “slight at best.”

(For a description of what “slight at best” might mean just during the construction process, read the December 18, 2017, article about Atlantic Sunrise construction by Jack McCallum, What happens when a pipeline is built in your backyard.)

Harking back to his startling headline, Sokolow says, “We have commented elsewhere about the failure of many Democrats, particularly in Northern Virginia, to speak out against the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines – what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called the ‘appalling silence’ of the good people. One wonders whether Ralph Northam would stay silent if the land being condemned belonged to him. What if these condemnation proceedings were taking place in Arlington, or Alexandria, or Falls Church, or Fairfax, or Reston? What if Dominion wanted to take your land and was telling a court that the harm you would suffer would be ‘slight at best?’ Would you stay silent?”

Read Sokolow’s full article here.

Tell the Marine Resource Commission: No Pipeline!

On November 27, 2017, we posted the story below. Although December 7, the supposed deadline for comments, has passed, we understand that the Virginia Marine Resources Council (VMRC) will continue to accept comments until they hold a hearing, which is not likely to be until early 2018. We urge everyone to continue to send your comments to the VMRC. You don’t have to know which specific rivers are included in the 48 mentioned in the notice, nor do you need to know details of proposed procedures, to comment on problems of drilling beneath river beds – especially given the examples in other pipeline construction projects of drilling mud spills and erosion-caused scouring of river beds. Erosion caused by river bed scouring is particularly relevant in Nelson with our history of flooding. But it is relevant everywhere given the increase in extreme weather events, see for example Floods Put Pipelines at Risk and Mapping Sunoco’s drilling mud spills.

Sign the petition and then join Bold Alliance in Newport News on Thursday, December 21, 2017, for a press conference and petition delivery to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC), to demand the agency hold public hearings to hear affected landowners’ and communities’ concerns on the proposed Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast fracked gas pipeline projects.  See our Events page for details.



The Public Notice above appeared on November 23, 2017, buried in the back pages of the print edition of the Thanksgiving Day Nelson County Times – and several layers down in the online edition. Yes, we’re sure the notice meets legal requirements, but given its timing it is clearly an effort to slip beneath everyone’s radar. (Thanks, Elinor Amidon, for your vigilance!)

Let’s make sure the Virginia Marine Resources Commission is awash with comments by December 7!

Send your letters opposing the ACP drilling under our streams and rivers to:
Marine Resources Commission
Habitat Management Division
2600 Washington Ave, 3rd Floor
Newport News, VA 23607

You may send comments by email to: Randy.Owen@mrc.virginia.gov. Put ACP in the subject line.

Tell them who you are, where you live, and why you oppose the ACP’s request to put its proposed pipeline beneath these 48 non-tidal and 3 tidal streams.