State sues over pipe­line, al­leg­ing over 300 en­vi­ron­men­tal vi­o­la­tions

Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - BY LAU­RENCE HAM­MACK

The com­pany build­ing a nat­u­ral gas pipe­line through South­west Vir­ginia vi­o­lated en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tions more than 300 times, a law­suit filed Fri­day by Vir­ginia’s top lawyer al­leges.

Moun­tain Val­ley Pipe­line is fac­ing “the max­i­mum al­low­able civil penal­ties and a court or­der to force MVP to com­ply with en­vi­ron­men­tal laws and reg­u­la­tions,” ac­cord­ing to a state­ment from At­tor­ney Gen­eral Mark Her­ring.

Since work be­gan ear­lier this year, in­spec­tions have found that crews failed to pre­vent muddy wa­ter from flow­ing off pipe­line con­struc­tion ease­ments, of­ten leav­ing harm­ful sed­i­ment in nearby streams and prop­er­ties.

Cover­ing a span of seven months and nearly 100 miles of the pipe­line’s route through five coun­ties, the law­suit is one of the most com­pre­hen­sive sum­maries to date of the en­vi­ron­men­tal toll taken by run­ning a 42-inch di­am­e­ter pipe­line across rugged slopes and through pure moun­tain streams.

Her­ring’s of­fice filed the case on be­half of Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Qual­ity Di­rec­tor David Pay­lor and the State Wa­ter Control Board.

“In this case, we de­ter­mined re­fer­ral to the Of­fice of the At­tor­ney Gen­eral was pru­dent in or­der to seek faster res­o­lu­tion to these vi­o­la­tions,” Pay­lor said in a writ­ten state­ment.

A Moun­tain Val­ley spokes­woman said Fri­day that “un­usu­ally wet con­di­tions and pe­ri­ods of record rain­fall” since con­struc­tion be­gan have posed un­ex­pected chal­lenges along the pipe­line’s 303-mile path from north­ern West Vir­ginia to Pitt­syl­va­nia County.

Natalie Cox wrote in an email that Moun­tain Val­ley “takes its en­vi­ron­men­tal stew­ard­ship re­spon­si­bil­i­ties very se­ri­ously and ap­pre­ci­ates the guid­ance and over­sight by the VDEQ. MVP will con­tinue to com­ply with the rel­e­vant laws and reg­u­la­tions re­lated to the safe and re­spon­si­ble con­struc­tion of this im­por­tant in­fra­struc­ture pro­ject in or­der to meet pub­lic de­mand for nat­u­ral gas.”

OOO

Sep­a­rately on Fri­day, the At­lantic Coast Pipe­line vol­un­tar­ily stopped work on the pro­ject in Vir­ginia, West Vir­ginia and North Carolina af­ter the 4th U.S. Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals stayed im­ple­men­ta­tion of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice’s Bi­o­log­i­cal Opin­ion and In­ci­den­tal Take State­ment, pend­ing re­view by the court.

“The Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice scram­bled to reis­sue this per­mit and its haste is ev­i­dent in its anal­y­sis,” said at­tor­ney Pa­trick Hunter of the South­ern En­vi­ron­men­tal Law Cen­ter.

Aaron Ruby of Do­min­ion En­ergy said in a state­ment: “We re­spect­fully but strongly dis­agree with the court’s de­ci­sion. We be­lieve this stay is not only un­war­ranted, but overly broad.” Ruby said the is­sues in the case in­volve four species and about 100 miles in West Vir­ginia and Vir­ginia, not all 600 miles in the pro­ject. Do­min­ion said it will file a mo­tion with the court ask­ing for a clar­i­fi­ca­tion on the scope of the stay.

Vir­ginia’s suit against the Moun­tain Val­ley Pipe­line, filed in Hen­rico County Cir­cuit Court, does not state an ex­act mon­e­tary amount that the state is seek­ing.

In July, the DEQ is­sued a no­tice of vi­o­la­tion to Moun­tain Val­ley, in­form­ing the com­pany that its mea­sures to control ero­sion and sed­i­ment had failed at mul­ti­ple lo­ca­tions in the coun­ties of Giles, Craig, Mont­gomery, Roanoke and Franklin.

The mat­ter was later re­ferred to the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice, which pre­pared a 27-page law­suit that makes more sweep­ing al­le­ga­tions.

A cit­i­zen watch­dog group, Moun­tain Val­ley Watch, has been sub­mit­ting re­ports of pos­si­ble vi­o­la­tions to the DEQ since early spring. And even as the state sanc­tions piled up, con­struc­tion con­tin­ued at a fast clip — ex­cept for court-or­dered sus­pen­sions in the Jef­fer­son Na­tional For­est and for spots where the pipe­line will cross streams and wet­lands.

Pipe­line op­po­nents have called on the DEQ to is­sue a stop-work or­der, which the agency is al­lowed by state law to do if there is a “sub­stan­tial ad­verse im­pact” to wa­ter qual­ity or if such an im­pact is em­i­nent.

The DEQ has taken no such ac­tion and did not ask for a cour­tordered sus­pen­sion in Fri­day’s law­suit.

Even so, the fi­nan­cial cost to Moun­tain Val­ley could be sub­stan­tial. Penal­ties in the case could be as high as $32,500 per day for each vi­o­la­tion, ac­cord­ing to the law­suit. The at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice has not cal­cu­lated the max­i­mum fine. “That will be de­ter­mined in court,” spokes­woman Char­lotte Gomer said.

Moun­tain Val­ley has al­ready agreed to pay the state $27.5 mil­lion to com­pen­sate for the en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age that was ex­pected even be­fore the first tree was felled, money that will be spent on con­ser­va­tion projects out­side the pipe­line’s reach.

The le­gal ac­tion is based on dozens of in­spec­tions con­ducted by DEQ of­fi­cials and em­ploy­ees of MBP, a pri­vate com­pany hired by the state to as­sist in mon­i­tor­ing con­struc­tion of what is the largest nat­u­ral gas pipe­line ever pro­posed for South­west Vir­ginia.

In Oc­to­ber, a per­mit from the Army Corps cover­ing about 500 stream and wet­land cross­ings in Vir­ginia was sus­pended af­ter a suc­cess­ful le­gal chal­lenge filed by the Sierra Club and other con­ser­va­tion groups that raised con­cerns about wa­ter pol­lu­tion.

HEATHER ROUSSEAU/THE ROANOKE TIMES

Moun­tain Val­ley Pipe­line, build­ing a gas line in South­west Vir­ginia, said it “takes its en­vi­ron­men­tal stew­ard­ship re­spon­si­bil­i­ties very se­ri­ously.”

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