Category Archives: Forest Service

Regulators Change the Rules to Ease Pipeline Approval

“A review by the Charleston Gazette-Mail, in collaboration with ProPublica, shows that, over the past two years, federal and state agencies tasked with enforcing the nation’s environmental laws have moved repeatedly to clear roadblocks and expedite the pipeline, even changing the rules at times to ease the project’s approvals.” What Happens When a Pipeline Runs Afoul of Government Rules? Authorities Change the Rules, discusses the many ways authorities have changed or ignored rules, citing numerous examples related to the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast Pipelines.

For the MVP:

  • “The court had found that the U.S. Forest Service had suddenly dropped — without any explanation — its longstanding concerns that soil erosion from the pipeline would harm rivers, streams and aquatic life. It also found that the Bureau of Land Management approved a new construction path through the Jefferson National Forest, ignoring rules that favor sticking to existing utility rights-of-way.”
  • “After citizen groups brought a lawsuit challenging how West Virginia regulators concluded that the pipeline would not violate state water quality standards, the state Department of Environmental Protection dropped its review and instead waived its authority to decide if the project complied with its rules. This effectively ended the legal challenge and paved the way for construction to begin.”
  • “Confronted with a similar lawsuit filed by the same citizen groups, the state and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers moved to rewrite their rules for how long pipeline construction could block the flow of rivers. Environmentalists fear that, under the plan approved by the Corps, four West Virginia rivers could be left dry for long periods of time, potentially harming aquatic life during construction.”
  • “Developers persuaded judges to speed court proceedings and grant them access to private property along the route to cut down trees, saying they needed to do so before protected bats came out of hibernation. But then, despite guidelines saying no logging could take place after March 31, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission twice extended the company’s deadline.”
  • “Since April, state water quality inspectors have issued citations along the pipeline route in West Virginia: sediment-laden water leaving the construction site; missing or improperly installed runoff controls; failure to add more pollution protections when existing ones were shown to be inadequate. So far, the MVP has not paid any fines for those violations.”
  • “In early July, the Corps of Engineers rewrote its approval of the pipeline to essentially waive the 72-hour time limit on the river crossing construction. In a court filing, Corps lawyers defended the move, saying the alternative of digging a trench for the pipeline without diverting water flow would cause more environmental damage. And just this Wednesday, the DEP released a proposal to exempt the stream-crossing method Mountain Valley Pipeline proposed from the 72-hour limit.”
  • “The federal agency also has approved other requests by the MVP developers that residents along the route say affect their quality of life in more straightforward ways. In recent weeks, residents fought a request for FERC to extend the construction day until as late as 9 p.m. Letters poured in from residents, organizations and county governments, urging FERC to turn it down. …. FERC approved the request over the residents’ objections.”

The ACP construction process is not as far along as that of the MVP, but the article notes the start of the same disturbing trend of agencies ignoring their own rules and mandates. In issuing the August 10, 2018, stop work order for the ACP, “Chief Judge Roger Gregory wrote that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved the project without setting any real limits on damage to endangered species, and the National Park Service granted permission for pipeline developers to drill under the Blue Ridge Parkway without determining if doing so was consistent with the road’s protection as a unit of the Park Service.”

Read the full article here.

New Protest Site Blocks MVP Access Road in Jefferson National Forest

A May 21, 2018, notice from Appalachians Against Pipelines:

Early on May 21, 2018, pipeline protesters in the Jefferson National Forest erected a new aerial blockade on Pocahontas Road near Narrows, VA. The blockade consists of a protester on a platform 30 feet in the air, suspended from a horizontal rope tied to surrounding trees. Banners at the site read “WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON?” and “STILL HERE.” Pocahontas Road is a Forest Service road and Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) access road that leads to the construction site for MVP’s intended boring through Peter’s Mountain, under the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. The presence of this roadblock prevents MVP’s continued construction of the access road and boring site, which has already been significantly delayed for well over 50 days by the presence of protester Nutty in an aerial blockade on the same road less than 3 miles away.

“I am taking a stand on Peters Mountain to prevent the further devastation of these lands by the Mountain Valley Pipeline,” said Fern MacDougal, the protester suspended in the new blockade. “Cutting through delicate karst topography and 300 miles of contiguous forest and family farms seized by eminent domain, MVP threatens to damage the health and wellbeing of poor and oppressed communities along the pipeline route by threatening the air, soil, and water. This pipeline will catalyze the growth and expansion of gas extraction across Appalachia, an industry which has already caused permanent harm to many communities. We are dedicated to resisting this reckless endangerment of the land and people as long as MVP continues to operate.” MacDougal further stated that she was inspired to take this action by monopod sitter Nutty and by David Buckel, an LGBTQ rights lawyer who died in April after setting himself on fire as a protest against the use of fossil fuels.

Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC has faced significant resistance to its plans for this 42-inch diameter fracked gas pipeline since 2014. In the past few months, numerous sites of direct action have sprung up, severely interfering with pipeline construction. A total of nine aerial blockades have now been launched by various groups and individuals across the pipeline route, including a tree sit near the ridge on Peters Mountain and a monopod blockade on Pocahontas Road, which have been occupied since February 26 and March 28, respectively.

Korine Kolivras, a resident of neighboring Montgomery County, VA who has been active in the pipeline resistance, explained her support for the new blockade: “We need clean drinking water. We need to live without fear of a massive explosion. We do not need another pipeline. We do not need to hand over our lands just so the pockets of executives can fill even further. This pipeline is not a public good; it benefits only corporate interests. I support continued actions to stop this unnecessary pipeline that would ruin our beautiful forests and communities. We the people are speaking.”

Since the launch of the first tree sit in the Jefferson National Forest — and in fact, since the initial proposal of the Mountain Valley Pipeline — Jefferson National Forest Supervisor Joby Timm has made it clear the he and the US Forest Service (USFS) value the interests of a private pipeline company over that of the people and ecosystems it will devastate. From amending the Forest Plan to approve the pipeline, to issuing numerous “emergency” forest and road closures, to arresting multiple supporters on the ground while preventing resupplies to the sitters, the USFS has made its stance clear. MVP continues to claim that it is on schedule for construction, although it remains to be seen how the company intends to meet its planned in-service date of late 2018, as the flames of resistance continue to spread.

MVP Runs ATVs on the AT

Appalachians Against Pipelines reports that for well over a week, Mountain Valley Pipeline and the US Forest Service have been driving ATVs up and down the Appalachian National Scenic Trail on Peters Mountain.

On April 30, 2018, the Roanoke Times story, ATV traffic on the Appalachian Trail is the latest Mountain Valley Pipeline controversy, reported that “After receiving a complaint Sunday about ATV traffic on an approximately quarter-mile section of the trail that runs along the edge of Giles County, Downs contacted the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which is overseeing construction of the natural gas pipeline. A FERC official looked into the matter and was told that the Forest Service authorized the use of ATVs, according to FERC spokeswoman Tamara Young-Allen. Forest Service officials have also been four-wheeling on the trail, she said. Joby Timm, the Roanoke-based supervisor of the Jefferson National Forest, said through a spokeswoman only that his agency was looking into the matter.”

This video — which shows the view from Symm’s Gap meadow, a famous and popular viewpoint along the AT — is just one example of many documented instances of motorized vehicle use on the AT & the accompanying trail damage.

According to the Forest Service’s website, ATV use is strictly prohibited on all National Forest land in West Virginia. Even the project plan for MVP’s boring under the AT specifically states, “No motorized vehicle traffic is permitted between the Appalachian National Scenic Trail bore pits.” On top of that, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy says, “To protect the Appalachian Trail and the A.T. experience, certain incompatible activities, such as … use of motorized vehicles, are prohibited.”

What can you do?

Call the Forest Service! Report this abuse of the trail, and DEMAND that they stop destroying public lands on behalf of MVP, and that they stop protecting MVP over land and communities!
• USFS Office in Atlanta – 888-603-6430
• Joby Timm, Forest Supervisor – 540-265-5118 – email jtimm@fs.fed.us
• Forest Supervisor’s Office (use employee directory to reach Timm) – 540-265-5100
• Jessica Rubado, Contact for Closure Orders – 503-314-0767 – jrubado@fs.fed.us
• Rebecca Robbins, Public Affairs Specialist – 540- 265-5173 – email rebeccarobbins@fs.fed.us

Note added on May 2:  On May 1, the day after their headline story about Trail damage, the Roanoke Times reported that Forest Service apologizes for damage to Appalachian Trail during patrols of pipeline protests. “The U.S. Forest Service apologized Tuesday for damaging the Appalachian Trail with all-terrain vehicles driven during patrols of a pipeline protest. In a news release, the agency admitted that its law enforcement officers used the ATVs from April 11 to April 30 on a short stretch of the scenic footpath that follows the ridge of Peters Mountain in the Jefferson National Forest.”

Road Closures for ACP in GW National Forest Still Undecided

Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance reports that public access to roads in the George Washington National Forest (GWNF) during construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) is still an unresolved issue. At this writing, the U.S. Forest Service has not yet issued a notice regarding what roads might be closed to the public in the GWNF while the ACP is being built. Conversations ABRA recently has had with the GWNF indicate it is unclear when decisions on road closures will be made.

In contrast, the Supervisor of the Monongahela National Forest signed on March 7, 2018, a 120-day closure notice for certain roads in that Forest associated with ACP activity. And, a notice associated with the construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline through the Jefferson National Forest. which is under the authority of the same forest supervisors as the GWNF, was signed on March 30. It calls for a two-year closure of specified roads.

Forest Service Further Restricts Access


Wild Virginia reports that the Forest Service has quietly revised its closure order, restricting further the public access around proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline work areas. The March 26, 2018 blog post from Wild Virginia says:

Wild Virginia has learned, through a March 24, 2018 email from Forest Supervisor Joby Timm of the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests, that the U.S. Forest Service issued two revised Emergency Closure Orders for areas of the Jefferson National Forest, covering two roads and the proposed path of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP). New versions of the original Order from March 7, 2018 were issued on March 10 and March 19, 2018. The Forest Service did not issue news releases to alert the public to these revised Orders and has not yet posted alerts about the revisions on its web site.

The latest version of the Order (Order Number 08-08-11-18-03, Revised Mountain Valley Pipeline Project Emergency Closure) prohibits public access to specified roads and portions of the Jefferson National Forest for more than one year, until March 31, 2019. This reverses a part of the original Order that banned the presence of motor vehicles on road sections “where construction associated with pipeline activity is occurring and when closed by a sign, gate, or barricade.”

The March 7 Order was unclear as to the time period for closure of lands in and adjacent to the pipeline right-of-way. The current version defines an exclusion zone stretching 200 feet on either side of the center line for the pipeline in areas where tree cutting has not yet occurred. In areas where a “disturbance corridor” has already been cut through the Forest, the public may not approach within 100 feet on either side of the approved right-of-way, which itself will be 125 feet wide in most areas.

The stated purpose of the Order is to ensure public safety during construction activities related to the MVP but this prohibition on the use of roads and substantial areas on the Forest for more than a year, even during periods when no work is occurring, is not justified by safety concerns. As stated in a March 12 letter in which Wild Virginia sought clarification of the original Closure Order, “it is vital that the public retain the right to visit and use all portions of our public lands to the greatest extent possible, consistent with safety concerns.”

David Sligh, Wild Virginia’s Conservation Director stated: “the Forest Service has allowed a new assault on the public’s rights and interests in our precious lands and waters. First, the agency conceded to industry pressure and granted the pipeline builders the right to destroy public resources for profit. Now it bans us from using sections of the forests and streams it is supposed to hold in trust for us, attempting to justify the act with invalid claims about safety.”

In addition, Sligh said, “the Forest Service revised the Closure Order, not once but twice in a short period, but made no attempt to let the public know that new rules applied and what they were. We have to ask why such an important decision that affects all who wish to use the Jefferson National Forest was made in secret. Anyone who was not scouring Forest Service documents would have had no notice that they were violating the law during the last week.”

National Forest Closings


The Forest Service has issued closure orders for both the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast Pipeline Project rights of way and access roads on National Forest System lands.  See press coverage on the Forest Service closure of MVP and ACP routes.

The orders prohibits anyone from being within 200 feet of either side of a right-of-way established for the pipelines to pass through the National Forest, and also prohibits non-motorized and motorized use of certain roads, including those planned for use as access roads during construction.  It threatens stiff fines and jail sentences for violators.

The Forest Service claims the closure orders are due to public safety hazards associated with constructing the ACP Project. It is far more likely, however, that the closure orders are meant to prevent citizen monitoring of pipeline construction.

Here is Maury Johnson’s statement on the closures:

MY STATEMENT CONCERNING THE CLOSURE OF THE JEFFERSON NATIONAL FOREST:

March 12, 2018

The Government Give-Away of our Public Lands

On March 7th, the USFS issued an order closing parts of the Jefferson National Forest and the Monongahela National Forest in the areas where the MVP and the ACP are to be built through the respective National Forests. Citing safety concerns they threaten people or organizations with the following sanctions for violating this order: “Violation of these prohibitions is punishable by a fine of not more than $5,000 for an individual or $10,000 for an organization, imprisonment for not more than 6 months, or both. (16 U.S.C. 551 and 18 U.S.C. 3559 and 3571).”

As a citizen of Monroe County who has been hiking and protecting the Appalachian Trail and the Jefferson National Forest for more than 40 years I am appalled at this directive. It may seem to the average person that this was done to insure public safety, but I assure you that the intent of this order is to keep citizens, the press and other local officials from monitoring the pipeline construction activities. This is government over reach by bullying and threat of arrest, fines and imprisonment.

With this order the give-away of our PUBLIC Lands and the destruction of NATIONAL TREASURES like the Appalachian Trail is complete. We the People of WV and VA will stand together to fight this government give away for private profit. This will not stand.

Sincerely,
Maury Johnson
Greenville, Monroe Co WV