Category Archives: Construction

FERC Lifts Stop Work Order for MVP

Even though the Mountain Valley Pipeline does not yet have any of the key approvals that prompted the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to issue a stop work order on August 3, 2018, on August 29 FERC issued a Letter to Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC re a Partial Authorization to Resume Construction under CP16-10.

Specifically, the letter says, “Maintaining the status quo across non-federal lands while the Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the BLM address the Court’s instructions regarding federal lands would likely pose threats to plant and wildlife habitat and adjacent waterbodies as long-term employment of temporary erosion control measures would subject significant portions of the route to erosion and soil movement. Requiring immediate restoration of the entire right-of-way to pre-construction conditions would require significant additional construction activity, also causing further environmental impacts. In consultation with staff, I have determined that protection of the environment along the Project’s right-of-way across non-federal land is best served by completing construction and restoration activities as quickly as possible.”

In other words, the agency claims that continued construction is the only way to “best mitigate further environmental impacts” – a strategy of destroying the village to save the village.

FERC’s 3-2 decision allowing the MVP to continue construction prompted a joint statement of dissent from Commissioners Cheryl LaFleur and Richard Glick:

Today, Commission staff issued a letter modifying the August 3, 2018 Stop Work Order on the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) Project, allowing Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC to resume construction on all non-federal lands between Milepost 77 up to Milepost 303. We have significant concerns with today’s decision to allow construction to resume while required right-of-way and temporary use permits remain outstanding.

On July 27, 2018, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit issued an order vacating decisions by the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management and the Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service authorizing the construction of the MVP Project across federal lands and remanding to those agencies for further proceedings. In response, on August 3, Commission staff halted construction activity along all portions of the MVP Project acknowledging MVP, “has not obtained the rights-of-way and temporary use permits from the federal government needed for the Project to cross federally owned lands.” We supported staff’s decision given the significance of the court’s order and the questions it raised regarding the future viability of the MVP Project.

Today’s action also highlights a broader concern regarding the Commission’s response to federal court actions that remand or vacate a federal authorization that is among the necessary pre-conditions for commencing construction in the first place. In response to recent court decisions, Commission staff has acted within its delegated authority to address the impact of those court decisions on post-certificate pipeline activities, as it did today. However, given the increasing complexity of such issues, we believe the Commission should revisit this practice. In the future, when a court remands or vacates a required federal authorization following the issuance of a notice to proceed, we believe the decision regarding whether and how to proceed with the pipeline should be made by the Commission rather than its staff. Ultimately, it is the Commission’s responsibility to ensure the project is in the public interest.

Standing Like a Tree


“Standing Like a Tree”: @Lobo Marino makes a call to action. The emotionally powerful new video shows what the ACP could destroy.

Consider visiting Miracle Ridge and Oona before September 8 to witness what is at stake. Details here: https://www.facebook.com/events/393037261100435/

“Standing Like a Tree” was filmed at Miracle Ridge, a Virginia mountain old growth forest slated for execution by the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Co-produced, arranged and performed by indie folk band Lobo Marino. From their Richmond, Virginia home base, Lobo Marino’s Laney Sullivan and Jameson Price have toured nationally for six years and produced seven records. Mystically political and whole heartily grassroots, this DIY band plays on large festival stages and the backyard fire pits of intentional communities across the country. Their music, built primarily around harmonium, Price’s elegantly simple full body percussion and Sullivan’s deep root vocals, carries the message of humanity’s need to find balance with nature.

“Standing Like a Tree” is based on an original 1987 song and lyrics by activist Betsy Rose who gave permission to use the piece to once again raise awareness of what must be protected. The film features Ona, a 300 year old silver maple at the center of the steep slope Miracle Ridge which the pipeline would destroy, land stewards Bill and Lynn Limpert, and snapshots of the legal and direct action resistance to the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast fracked gas pipelines.

Video was shot and edited by Chris Damon and Kate Rivara of Richmond film collective “Good Day RVA”. Additional footage by @Aspen Miller with sound captured by Patrick Ball.

FERC Approves Stabilization Plan for ACP Work Stoppage

From the ABRA Update, August 23, 2018:

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on August 17, 2018, granted permission for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC (ACP, LLC) to implement plans to conduct interim work on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) during the period of the stop work order on the project. FERC had requested the plan as part of its August 10 stop work order for the project, which had been prompted by an August 6 federal court decision vacating two key permits for the ACP and a subsequent request made to the agency by several ABRA members for a stop work order to be issued.

FERC’s August 17 letter to ACP, LLC authorizes the company “to implement the plans with the following condition: for locations where trees have been felled, but mainline construction activity has not yet started (table 3.1-1 of each plan), Atlantic and DETI must continue monitoring the right-of-way as dictated by weather conditions, but no less than once every month.”

Continuing, the letter states, “We note that clearing of felled vegetation has not yet occurred on federal lands. Thus, the stabilization measures (except for monitoring) would generally not apply to these locations. However, Atlantic must continue to work and seek concurrence from the appropriate agencies for any additional measures that Atlantic may propose on federal lands.”

The ACP, LLC plan, submitted August 14, is available here.

Troubling Questions Raised by Email Exchanges

An email exchange between Rick Webb of Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition (DPMC) and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), regarding DEQ’s handling of mail sent to the State Water Control Board, raises questions about why DEQ is apparently withholding information from State Water Control Board members prior to their meeting on August 21, 2018.

Further, DEQ will not finish its summary of comments submitted to the Board until the date of the meeting itself. But according to an August 17, 2018, Blue Virginia article about an email exchange between David Sligh of Wild Virginia, DEQ has not given to SWCB members the report by Wild Virginia and DPMC summarizing the 13,000+ comments made during the April-June comment period.

Is DEQ trying to limit what information SWCB members see?

Webb’s report documents DEQ’s failure to consider the impact that construction of Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Pipelines would have and already has had on Virginia’s water quality.  Regarding the email exchange, Webb writes, “The correspondence below concerns what amounts to a wholesale waiver of Virginia’s limits on the length of contiguous open trench during pipeline construction.

“If DEQ accepts Dominion’s waiver request (incorporated in the Erosion and Sediment Control Plans currently under review), open trenches (up to 12 ft deep and 30 ft wide at the top) will be allowed top-to-bottom on all the steep mountains crossed by the ACP in western Virginia. Note that DEQ and Dominion propose to limit the total open-trench length in any given construction spread to 16,000 ft. This is not protective in any meaningful sense because it will still allow open trenches on all mountainsides – from the top of the ridge to the stream below.

“FYI, we have conducted research related to DEQ’s waiver of the open-trench limitation (a minimum standard in the ESC regulations).  We examined DEQ records for 12 such open-trench variance requests made through 2015. We found that DEQ granted all such requests, with the longest being for a 15-mile open trench in southern Virginia. We concluded then. and It is still safe to say, that prior to review of the ACP and MVP, DEQ’s involvement with pipeline projects was limited to granting variances to critical regulatory requirements. There was essentially no review or oversight. This helps somewhat to explain DEQ’s present difficulties.”

On Friday August 10, Rick Webb wrote to DEQ:

RE: Comment concerning Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) and Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) Projects
State Water Control Board Request for Technical Information on Specific Wetland and/or Stream Crossings

FR: Rick Webb on behalf of Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition (DPMC)

This comment concerns the above-cited public notice posted on the Virginia Regulatory Town Hall on April 27, 2018, entitled Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) and Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) Projects – State Water Control Board Request for Technical Information on Specific Wetland and/or Stream Crossings. Comments were previously submitted by me, Rick Webb, on behalf of the DPMC during the officially designated comment period. This comment concerns significant information that was not available during the officially designated comment period.

Newly obtained information indicates that Dominion Energy has proposed to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and may be granted a general variance to Virginia Erosion and Sediment Control Regulation Minimum Standard 16A (VAC 25-840-40.16A, which requires that no more than 500 linear feet of trench may be open at one time.

Deep open trenches extending down from the tops of mountains greatly increase the risk of uncontrolled runoff and sedimentation at stream crossings. The increased risk is due both to concentration of runoff in the trench and due to interference with installation of other erosion control measures (e.g., the proper installation of water interceptor diversions across the disturbed corridor area). The potential impact of waiving open-trench limits was not addressed in the Clean Water Act Section 404 permit review by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Concerns were raised about open-trench variances at the December 12, 2017 meeting of the State Water Control Board, where Melanie Davenport, Water Permitting Division Director for DEQ, answered a board member question concerning variance requests and factors considered. In response, Ms. Davenport indicated that open trench lengths would be limited depending on the percent slope. To the extent that this response provided assurance to the board, it was misleading.

Dominion now proposes that a three-tiered set of criteria be applied to determine allowable open-trench lengths, as follows:

  • Where slopes are <10%, the maximum allowable contiguous open-trench length would be 7,000 feet.
  • Where slopes are 10 to <33%, the maximum allowable contiguous open-trench length would be 5,000 feet.
  • Where slopes are >33%, the maximum allowable contiguous open-trench length would be 2,500 feet.

These criteria effectively waive open-trench limits. The ACP will cross many steep-sided mountains with the construction corridor running down to stream crossings. These criteria will allow uninterrupted open trenches on all of these mountains. In the event of significant rainfall and runoff, impacts at stream crossings will be unavoidable. This one among many reasons why the State Water Control Board cannot simply rely on the Section 404 general permit to prevent violation of water quality standards and protect water resource uses.

On behalf of the DPMC, I ask that the board give careful consideration to this significant problem.

Thank you,

Rick Webb

On Friday August 17 he received this response:

Thank you for your recent email to the State Water Control Board (Board).

In addition, if your email contained specific complaint information, the email has been forwarded to compliance staff to ensure they have the information.

Cindy M. Berndt
Director, Regulatory Affairs
Department of Environmental Quality
1111 East Main Street, Suite 1400
P.O. Box 1105
Richmond, Virginia 23218
804.698.4378 [Call: 804.698.4378]

Webb replied, also on Friday August 17:

Ms. Berndt,

Thank for your message below acknowledging my recent comments to the State Water Control Board.

I request a copy of any submissions to the Board concerning my comments, including my comments (the email copied below) and any related summaries, advice, or other information provided to the Board by DEQ. Please also let me know which Board members received the material.

My comments addressed significant information that was not available during the officially designated comment period, and these new comments were submitted 10 days prior to the upcoming Board meeting. I seek to confirm and ensure that my comments concerning this information was provided to the Board to inform its deliberations on the sufficiency of the NWP12 for permitting waterbody crossings associated with the ACP and MVP pipeline proposals.

Thank you.

Rick Webb


From Rick Webb on Sunday afternoon August 19, 2018: Update: I did hear back from Cindy M. Berndt, Director, Regulatory Affairs, Department of Environmental Quality. She confirmed that my email concerning the open-trench waiver has been forwarded to each member of the State Water Control Board. Based on this and other well-documented deficiencies associated with regulatory review and oversight of stream crossings, there is no “reasonable assurance” that the ACP and MVP will or can be constructed without harm to Virginia’s water resources. The board should withdraw 401 certification for both projects.

Mountain Valley Watch Issues Report

After three months of monitoring the construction work on the Mountain Valley Pipeline, Mountain Valley Watch, a citizen watchdog group, has submitted detailed comments to the Virginia State Water Control Board. Through August 7, 2018, Mountain Valley Watch volunteers submitted 277 reports of suspected improper erosion controls at Southwest Virginia construction sites, reports which professional engineers and academics evaluated before submitting 58 complaints to DEQ.

The executive Summary of the report states, “The data demonstrates that:

  • Precision Pipeline frequently failed to employ Best Management Practices and properly install required erosion control devices and maintain them. The direct result is the serious impairment of Virginia waters.
  • The extent and repetition of these failures (often in the same location), consistent with research in referenced journals, indicates the limitations of BMPs in mountainous terrain. BMPs are not infallible, nor are they intended to be so; they are designed to minimize adverse impacts. Rain events, well within the standard of “normal,” on steep slopes of upland watersheds overwhelm BMPs. This is documented in scientific reports in refereed journals.
  • The processes by which DEQ decided the Nationwide Permit 12 and conducted the 30 day public comment period were fundamentally flawed, contributing to an unsubstantiated opinion that MVP construction would not significantly impair Virginia waters. This report demonstrates significant sediment loading into streams.
  • It is imperative that DEQ and the SWCB revisit their decisions to approve the Section 401 Certification and Nationwide 12 permit for the Mountain Valley Pipeline.
  • There is a reasonable likelihood, based in on the facts on the ground, that continued construction will continue to significantly adversely impact Virginia water for years to come.