Dear Friends of Friends of Nelson,
2021 has been a year devoted to exploring new ways Friends of Nelson can serve Nelson County. After six long years of battling the misbegotten Atlantic Coast Pipeline proposal, our steering committee members and volunteers are ready for a change of pace and focus.
Our first priority for 2021 was finishing up the pipeline battle and doing what we could to help other citizen groups in their struggles against unwanted pipelines. We prepared an archive of our efforts and experiences; sought to get Dominion to release easements extracted through threats of eminent domain; and are preparing several different resources through a ‘Lessons Learned’ project intended to help other grassroots pipeline fighters to get started quickly and organize effectively.
Looking to the future, we examined projects aimed at preserving and enhancing Nelson County’s environmental quality and the enterprises, ranging from farming to tourism, that depend on it. Interests to be further developed include practical ways in which Nelson County can become a leader in climate and environmental action. For details see our annual report.
Our steering committee combines wizened veterans and energetic newcomers:
Doug Wellman, president and future vice president
Mary Eiserman, vice president and future president
Susan McSwain, secretary
Cheryl Klueh, treasurer
We anticipate some departures from the steering committee, so we are eager to hear from anyone who might be interested in serving. If you think you’d like to put your shoulder to the wheel, please contact any of the current committee members you may know or Doug Wellman at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 434-964-8307.
Our annual meeting is scheduled for Sunday, January 23, 2022. Due to continuing COVID challenges, it will be via Zoom. The meeting link and passcode is below.
We look forward to seeing you!
Topic: Friends of Nelson Annual Meeting
Time: Jan 23, 2022 04:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)
Join Zoom Meeting
Meeting ID: 880 3273 9022
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Meeting ID: 880 3273 9022
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It has been a tumultuous month for the embattled Mountain Valley Pipeline.
News at the beginning of December that the Virginia State Air Pollution Control Board voted to deny an air permit for a proposed compressor station in Pittsylvania in a 6-1 vote was followed by a divided Virginia State Water Control Board 3-2 vote to approve a necessary stream crossing permit toward the middle of the month.
The denial of the air permit was based on a determination that it did not meet ‘fair treatment’ requirements under the new Virginia Environmental Justice Act passed in 2020. A lack of suitability of the site and a 2020 decision over the siting of a compressor station in Union Hill for the cancelled ACP were also cited. From a December 3rd Virginia Mercury article.
Approval of the stream-crossing permit for the MVP comes despite lawsuits over numerous erosion and sediment control violations. An analysis by Wild Virginia (a pipeline opponent) ‘has shown that Mountain Valley has violated environmental rules more than 1,500 times during its existence.’ Under the federal Clean Water Act, pipelines have to obtain federal and state permits that guarantee they will not significantly degrade water quality during either construction or operation. In 2018, federal approval of stream crossings were overturned and MVP opted to seek approval of crossings from Virginia. The project still needs stream-crossing authorizations from West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as well as an approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission allowing it to bore underneath waterways. From a December 14th Virginia Mercury article.
A December 20 Roanoke Times article does a great job covering the saga of the MVP.
Friends of Nelson continues the fight to convince FERC to order Dominion to cancel all easements in Nelson County and elsewhere on the proposed path of the now abandoned Atlantic Coast Pipeline
Although Dominion has abandoned the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and will never build it, they stubbornly refuses to cancel the easements that it acquired to build the Pipeline. These easements were obtained by suing landowners, with the blessing of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC or the Commission) or by threatening to sue them in Federal Court. Since the Pipeline was cancelled 14 months ago, there is no justification for Dominion to keep the easements. The easements held by Dominion are a serious, continuing and completely unwarranted burden on as many as 200 easements in Nelson County.
FERC then decided to produce a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) to evaluate the Restoration Plan and assist the FERC Commissioners in deciding whether or not to issue an Order approving ACP’s plans. They opened a “scoping period” to formally solicit comments from stakeholders that would help FERC do its environmental analysis.
On July 23, 2021, FERC published published the Draft SEIS and basically said ‘not my department’ and they continue to duck the easement issue. Friends of Nelson refuses to allow FERC to sit on the sidelines.
On Monday, September 13, Friends of Nelson filed its third set of comments with FERC regarding these issues.
In a summary of those comments, Friends of Nelson, argues that:
‘These comments present the Commission with a clear choice – that is, the Commission may act “in the public interest” and “for the public convenience and necessity” and order Atlantic to immediately release all easements that it obtained for the now-abandoned ACP if requested by the landowner. In so doing, the Commission will end the serious burdens on private land that are imposed by these easements, easements that were obtained by Atlantic by legal force or coercion when the Commission issued the certificate of public necessity and convenience for the ACP (the “Certificate”). Or, the Commission may act “in the private interest” and “for the private convenience and necessity” of Atlantic and permit Atlantic to retain the temporary and permanent easements for many years to come and to extract further financial or other concessions from the affected property owners even though the sole reason for the easements to exist, and the sole “public interest” justification for the easements – the construction of the ACP – no longer exists. We submit that it is the Commission’s responsibility to act solely “in the public interest” and “for the public convenience and necessity,” and to reject Atlantic’s attempts to retain the easements “in its private interest.”’
Lawyers at the Southern Environmental Law Center and the Niskanen Center also
have submitted multiple comments on behalf of Friends of Nelson and others, pointing out that
Dominion refuses to deal with the issue of restoring landowners’ property rights.
Friends of Nelson will continue to press FERC at every point to require Dominion to cancel the easements, and leave our neighbors alone to enjoy their land unfettered by Dominion’s heavy-handed restrictions.
ACP’s Restoration Plan does not deal with the issue of restoring landowners’ property rights. Easements held by Dominion are a serious, continuing and completely unwarranted burden on as many as 250 properties in Nelson County. The easements seriously burden an owner’s ability to use or sell property since they are prohibited from erecting structures such as a house or barn, planting trees and moving earth within the easement. Peace of mind also is affected due to the threat that Dominion/ACP could someday transfer the easement to the developer of another project.
FERC says ‘not my department’ in a recently published Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (DSEIS). Friends of Nelson, as well as lawyers at the Southern Environmental Law Center and the Niskanen Center and others have submitted multiple comments pointing out that ACP’s Restoration Plan does not deal with the issue of restoring landowners’ property rights.
ACP has indicated that they will not release ANY of the temporary easements until after ALL restoration work is completed on ALL properties along the pipeline route. This despite the fact that 376 miles of the pipeline (and all but one parcel in Nelson) had no tree-felling or construction impacts on them whatsoever. This could take 3-5 years, or more. This is ridiculous and unfair.
ACP has stated publicly that they have no intention of voluntarily releasing the permanent easements, but that landowners MAY, at some unspecified time in the future, have the opportunity to negotiate with them some reduction in the restrictions. Again, this could take 3-5 years, or more.
Friends of Nelson finds ACP’s plan is unacceptable. And because FERC is the one who granted eminent domain to ACP in the first place, now that project has been cancelled, we believe that FERC has an obligation to step up and help landowners get released from these easements. Landowners shouldn’t have to fight Dominion on their own (again)!
In the newly released DSEIS, FERC staff asserts that because the easements are not an “environmental” issue, they are outside the scope of the environmental review process. In other words, FERC is saying “not my department”. We must not let them shrug our concerns off this way.
Please submit comments to FERC and state that — regardless of whether staff thinks they are appropriate for inclusion in the EIS process — they must be forwarded to the Commissioners so that concerns about the easements can be taken into account when the final Order is issued later this year.
If you need help filing your comments, you can refer to the Guide we have prepared with step-by-step instructions, or commenting and/or becoming an intervenor.
Possible talking points include:
1) ACP must IMMEDIATELY release the temporary easements on all properties that had no tree-felling or other impacts from the project. It is grossly unfair to force landowners to wait YEARS for this relief when no actual restoration work is required on their land and their land is not needed for access to the areas being restored.
2) FERC granted eminent domain to ACP, which enabled ACP to coerce easement agreements with landowners who felt they had no choice but to sign. Because of their role in this, FERC is morally obligated to help landowners regain control of their lands now that the project has been cancelled (and thus the original justification for granting eminent domain no longer applies). The Commissioners should make permanent easement release a condition of any restoration order.
3) Simply excluding our easement concerns from the EIS on the grounds that they are “not an environmental issue” is unacceptable and a dereliction of FERC’s recently touted duty to make its process more easily navigable for landowners. Stakeholders must be given a way of bringing their legitimate concerns before the Commissioners so that they can be taken into account when the final order is crafted. If the EIS process is not the right venue for that, FERC should clearly lay out for landowners what other recourse is available to them.
Friends of Nelson
It’s been just over a year since Dominion and its utility partners announced they were scrapping plans for a pipeline to carry natural gas from the fracking fields of West Virginia through Virginia to North Carolina. Opponents were thrilled, but the fight isn’t over yet.
Audio and written story by Sandy Hausman forRadio IQ. August 5th, 2021
Please join us to celebrate our incredible Nelson Community and our incredible collective victory over the ACP project.
The focus of the event is on the fact that this was done by ALL of us, that ALL the contributions large and small added up to the outcome.
This is our chance to say thank you to each other and to honor the connections we’ve built over the last 6-7 years, as well as to set an intention for the connections and community spirit we built to continue into the future, even in the absence of a “common enemy” like the ACP.
The celebration will be from 5pm-9pm on Saturday, July 10th at the Rockfish Valley Community Center and will include libations, musical entertainment, guest speakers, and even a food truck.