Category Archives: Zoning Requests

Dominion Didn’t Do Homework


In a Letter to the Editor of the Nelson County Times, published February 14, 2018, Marilyn Shifflett points out the many ways in which Dominion had failed to do their homework when they came to the Board of Zoning appeals on February 5 with applications for variances to cross more than four miles of Nelson floodplains. She says, “I commend the diligence of the BZA and the Department Planning & Zoning staff. I am most grateful for their attention to detail. However, I find myself left with more questions than answers regarding the ACP’s quoted responses” in the press coverage of the hearing.

  • “The pipeline route through Nelson is roughly 90 percent sloped terrain, which means the bulk of the remainder is through these sites. Nelson’s route has more floodplains than any community on the entire 600-mile route. After nearly four years, this was their “preferred route” in a community with a long history of frequent flooding?”
  • Variance requests were submitted after the Nelson County Board of Supervisors passed a new floodplain ordinance. Apparently the ACP didn’t realize their requests would be considered under that ordinance.
  • Variance requests on seven properties were dismissed because the ACP had not obtained easement agreements for those properties and, under Virginia law, the lack of easement agreements constitutes the “lack of standing” required for variance applications. Dominion surveyed the properties (uner court order in February 2017 and floodplains were clearly delineated in the sruveys. Yet Dominion apparently didn’t know they needed an “interest” in the properties to apply for variances.
  • “The ACP’s request for deferral on all 11 sites expresses an interest in further hydrologic and hydraulic analyses indicating that they now suddenly view these areas as “high consequence.” One of the most frequent causes of pipeline ruptures is earth movement on slopes and along stream crossings, particularly during periods of heavy rains. Given Dominion’s public statements regarding thorough environmental reviews and their commitment to the safety of impacted communities, I am left wondering why these sites were not given attention a year ago during survey, and why did the ACP’s October request for variances not include such analyses and engineering plans specific to these sites?”

Did Dominion think they could just walk in and get the variances, regardless of what the ordinance says, regardless of their standing on the properties, regardless of their lack of analysis and plans for the properties? Probably they did. Leaves us to wonder about the extent of other homework undone. Think about all those applications – to FERC, to DEQ, to the Forest Service – where Dominion has said, “Information on this will be provided later. But we want you to approve this now.”

BZA Dismisses 7, Defers 4 Floodplain Variance Requests

At its evening meeting on February 5, 2018, the Nelson County Board of Zoning Appeals dismissed seven of Dominion’s eleven requests for variance to Nelson’s floodplain ordinance for lack of standing, and granted deferrals for a hearing on the remaining four. “Lack of standing” means that Dominion requested variances on properties it does not own or for which it has no legal right or easements; Virginia law does not permit such requests.

Dominion had requested deferment of the public hearing on all 11 properties through which they propose to route the ACP.  The BZA voted unanimously for both the seven dismissals and the four deferments.

Read Dominion’s January 31, 2018, request to defer the public hearing to a later date. (Note that the letter is addressed to Nelson County’s former Director of Planning, who left the position in spring 2017, not to Sandy Shackelford, the county’s Director of Planning for the past eight months. But we all know that Dominion documents are error-prone.)

There will be no public hearing on February 12, 2018, and at this time no future hearing has been scheduled.

Also at the February 5 meeting, Draper Aden, the engineering firm hired several weeks ago by the BZA to advise them on floodplain matters, admitted it had a conflict of interest after working with Dominion in the past.  At Draper Aden’s suggestion, the BZA retained Maryland-based engineering, consultation, and construction firm KCI Technologies for further engineering and technical review of the variance applications.

Floodplains: Unsung Heroes in Our Communities


Floodplains are unsung heroes in our communities. They are important systems that we need to help our landscapes deal with water, organic matter, filtration, and erosion control. The ACP is asking the Nelson County Board of Zoning Appeals for variances so they can put their 42″ pipeline through our floodplains.

What does #4 on the graphic say?
“When we develop in floodplains we reduce the floodplain’s storage capacity, causing the next flood of equal intensity to crest even higher than the last.”

For further information on the purposes and values of floodplains, see these information sheets from Nature Conservancy and Pennsylvania.

Update on February 5th Meetings


As reported in the Nelson County Times, the Nelson County Board of Zoning Appeals will meet in open session tomorrow evening, February 5, 2018. (See article below.) This meeting is open to the public and those interested in the upcoming Public Hearing currently scheduled for February 12th may wish to attend.

Friends of Nelson will also hold a Floodplain Variance information session on Monday February 5th at the Rockfish Valley Community Center. Feel free to drop by any time between 6pm and 8:30pm. We will have floodplain maps and information for review.

The Nelson Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) February 12, 2018, public hearing on ACP requests for variances to the Flood Plain Ordinance (FPO) will probably be postponed. Stay tuned for a decision on rescheduling.

FPO Hearings May Be Postponed

The Nelson Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) February 12, 2018, public hearing on ACP requests for variances to the Flood Plain Ordinance (FPO) will probably be postponed. Late on February 2, 2018, the Lynchburg News & Advance reported, “In a letter to the county’s planning and zoning department dated Jan. 31, Dominion’s Vice President for Pipeline Construction Leslie Hartz, on behalf of the ACP, requested a deferral of public hearings on variance applications for 11 floodplain crossings in Nelson, currently scheduled for Feb. 12. The deferral request from ACP essentially would put a pause on the Nelson variance process.”

The request must be formally accepted by the BZA, which will address it during their regularly scheduled meeting on Monday February 5. Stay tuned for a decision on rescheduling.

The variances, for 11 floodplain crossings in Nelson County totaling 4.5 miles of floodplain, 3.5 for pipeline and one mile for access roads, are required because, under Nelson’s floodplain ordinance, pipelines qualify as “critical facilities” whose construction is not normally allowed in floodplains. “Critical facilities” are prohibited because even a slight chance of flooding poses too great a threat to public health, safety, and welfare. Critical facilities include “structures that store or transport highly volatile, flammable, explosive, toxic, and/or water-reactive materials,” as well as nursing homes, police stations, and public utilities. The ordinance also lists hazardous materials, including natural gas, which may not be stored in Special Flood Hazard Areas for longer than 30 days because they “would pose an unacceptable risk…during flooding”.

Unprepared: Judge Faults MVP, Highland Planning Comm. Faults ACP


The February 1, 2018, Roanoke Times reports, “With just a few hours remaining until Thursday, the day that Mountain Valley Pipeline had hoped to start work on a natural gas pipeline through Southwest Virginia, a judge put a pause to those plans. The decision by U.S. District Court Judge Elizabeth Dillon came during a proceeding in which Mountain Valley had sued nearly 300 property owners who refused to surrender their land for the controversial project. Although the laws of eminent domain give Mountain Valley the power to obtain forced easements for its buried pipeline, Dillon ruled, she rejected the company’s request for immediate access to the parcels. Facing a tight deadline to have trees felled along the pipeline’s route by March 31 to meet federal wildlife protections, Mountain Valley executed what’s called a quick-take condemnation. That process might have allowed the company to start work by Thursday on the disputed properties. But first, Mountain Valley was required to demonstrate it could pay the property owners just compensation for the easements — at prices to be determined at trials later, likely well after construction had begun. Such a demonstration would have included paying a bond or deposit with the court. At a hearing earlier this month, Mountain Valley presented appraisals for just nine of the nearly 300 properties, which Dillon said was insufficient information on which to base an appropriate bond amount. ‘Until MVP can provide a more fulsome basis on which the court can assure that just compensation will be paid, the court cannot allow immediate possession at this time to nearly all of the properties,’ Dillon wrote in a 52-page decision released shortly before 6 p.m. Wednesday.”

Read Judge Dillon’s Opinion here and her Order here.

As reported by the February 1, 2018, Highlander, the Highland County Planning Commission at their January 25, 2018, meeting based their decisions on the many mistakes and unanswered questions in Dominion’s presentation requesting local permits for lay-down yards and crossing easements. This is the first time county planners have been given an opportunity to see what Dominion proposes – including heavy truck traffic for 10 hour/day on 6 and perhaps 7 days a week over steep, narrow, and winding roads, giant equipment traveling more than 10 miles on those roads, permanent access roads on steep mountain slope (with more mileage than the pipeline itself), unsecured construction yards, lack of reliable water sources for dust control, lack of a traffic study requested by Virginia’s Dept. of Transportation. “It was no surprise to anyone, except county staff, that the applications submitted were full of holes and mistakes. Landowners all along the pipeline’s proposed path in three states have found hundreds of errors made by the company over the last few years, from egregious omissions to simple math mistakes.”

“Citing numerous errors and inadequacies, the Highland County Planning Commission on Jan. 25 voted to set one public hearing, but tabled two other land-use applications for Dominion to establish proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline construction lay-down material storage yards.”