Pipe­line

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - RTD WEATHER - Mmartz@times­dis­patch.com (804) 649-6964

ion Re­sources, con­tends that the new pro­pos­als are “an ap­pro­pri­ate and fair of­fer to off­set the lim­ited im­pact of the cross­ings,” spokesman Aaron Ruby said.

But op­po­nents of the pipe­line said the pro­posed con­ver­sion of the ease­ments would vi­o­late state law and po­ten­tially crip­ple the pro­gram for pro­tect­ing highly scenic, en­vi­ron­men­tally valu­able prop­er­ties.

“The risk here for the ease­ment pro­gram is sig­nif­i­cant,” warned Greg Bup­pert, se­nior at­tor­ney at the South­ern En­vi­ron­men­tal Law Cen­ter in Char­lottesville. “If the VOF says yes, they un­der­mine the crit­i­cal trust be­tween the foun­da­tion and the owner of the ease­ment.”

Un­der the pro­pos­als, the pipe­line would per­ma­nently af­fect 55 acres of the 4,500 acres un­der ease­ment on the 10 prop­er­ties in Bath, High­land, Au­gusta, and Nel­son coun­ties, rather than the 68 acres that would have been af­fected un­der the orig­i­nal ap­pli­ca­tions filed last May, Ruby said. In re­turn, the com­pany has of­fered to place ease­ments on an 1,100acre farm in High­land and 85 acres along the Rock­fish River in Nel­son.

The pro­posal rep­re­sents a 21-to-one swap, Ruby said. “We be­lieve it’s an even more gen­er­ous of­fer.”

But op­po­nents called the pro­posed changes “in­signif­i­cant” com­pared with the eco­log­i­cal dam­age that the pipe­line would cause to forests, streams and wildlife.

“We’re talk­ing about frag­ment­ing and dam­ag­ing high­in­tegrity forests,” said Rick Webb, co­or­di­na­tor of the Do­min­ion Pipe­line Mon­i­tor­ing Coali­tion and a re­tired en­vi­ron­men­tal sci­en­tist at the Univer­sity of Vir­ginia.

The foun­da­tion staff posted the re­vised ap­pli­ca­tions on its web­site late Thurs­day af­ter­noon. It also posted a state­ment that out­lined pro­posed changes that would re­duce the per­ma­nent right-of-way for the pipe­line across the prop­er­ties from 75 to 50 feet wide, as well as pro­hibit above-ground structures and any ad­di­tional pipe­line cross­ings in the fu­ture, while re­quir­ing the com­pany to re­store the af­fected land with na­tive grasses and habi­tat for pol­li­na­tion.

“We’re not mak­ing rec­om­men­da­tions,” spokesman Ja­son McGar­vey said in an in­ter­view Thurs­day. “We’re just mak­ing our find­ings to the board, and then they have to make their de­ter­mi­na­tion.”

The de­bate is over­shad­owed by the po­ten­tial pre-emp­tion of the state ease­ment law by the Fed­eral En­ergy Reg­u­la­tory Com­mis­sion, which ex­pects to de­cide by Septem­ber whether to grant a cer­tifi­cate of public need for the $5.1 bil­lion, 600mile pipe­line and al­low its de­vel­oper to use em­i­nent do­main to con­demn prop­erty in its pro­posed path.

FERC is­sued a draft en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact state­ment at the end of last month that re­jected a once-pro­posed route vari­a­tion that would have crossed a pro­tec­tive ease­ment on Elk Hill Farm in Nel­son, which the com­pany has said it does not pro­pose to cross.

Bup­pert said the board should re­ject the pro­posed ap­pli­ca­tions be­cause they would vi­o­late Sec­tion 1074 of the Open Space Land Act. It al­lows for ease­ment con­ver­sions or di­ver­sions only if they meet a se­ries of con­di­tions, in­clud­ing show­ing that the con­ver­sions are “es­sen­tial to the or­derly devel­op­ment and growth of the lo­cal­ity” and in ac­cor­dance with lo­cal com­pre­hen­sive plans.

“There’s sim­ply no way for Do­min­ion to ar­gue that this is es­sen­tial to those lo­cal­i­ties,” he said.

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