Some residents of Nelson County strongly opposed to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline believe they have received a gift right before Christmas.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has written a 34-page letter to Dominion citing more than 100 issues that must be addressed in the ACP proposal before the application may be considered.
“You should be aware that through our consultations with the U.S. Forest Service and our interpretation of the prescriptive-specific goals, objectives, standards and guidelines listed in the respective Monongahela and George Washington National Forests’ Land and Resource Management Plans, we have determined that alternative routes to the south of the currently proposed ACP route may offer environmental advantages over the currently proposed route,” the Dec. 4 letter from FERC states. “To ensure that a complete and thorough evaluation of the ACP is presented in the draft environmental impact statement (EIS), we request that Atlantic identify and assess an alternative pipeline route across the National Forests.”
Dominion submitted its final application to FERC earlier this year. FERC has the ultimate approval or denial of the ACP, which is proposed to run through Nelson County.
“The FERC letter is very significant in the scope of issues raised and offers hope that ACP's pipeline application will not receive the expedited consideration which Dominion requested,” a newsletter from the Rockfish Valley Foundation states.
FERC’s letter to Dominion, signed by Kevin Bowman, environmental project manager of the Office of Energy Projects, states the ACP application is incomplete and the federal agency cannot establish a schedule for the required Environmental Impact Study until a complete application is received and reviewed.
“The information requested in the enclosure is necessary for us to evaluate the … ACP, and an alternative pipeline route across the National Forests and to continue preparation of the draft EIS for the project. Please note that we will not be able to establish a schedule for completing the EIS until we have received your responses and reviewed it for completeness,” the letter from FERC states.
FERC also requests that Dominion consider several alternatives for the pipeline, specifically for the proposed route under Reids Gap and through the South Rockfish Valley.
“Evaluate a route variation and provide a table comparing the relevant environmental factors … that maximizes the use of pasture and agricultural land in the Rockfish Valley, minimizes ridgetop and forest impacts, and avoids or minimizes impacts on cultural and historic properties, nature trails, waterbodies, the Spruce Creek Tributary Conservation Site and planned developments (i.e., Wintergreen Resort Expansion and Spruce Creek Resort),” the letter states.
Aaron Ruby, spokesman for Dominion, said the request from FERC is evidence of the thorough and comprehensive review the project is receiving.
“Counter to what some critics have said, the FERC approval process is a high bar to clear and is designed to address the concerns and interests of all stakeholders,” he said.
Dominion is in the process of preparing a response, which Ruby said is planned to be submitted to the FERC in the coming weeks.
“Receiving the first information request is an important milestone for the project and is a normal part of the process for a project of this scope and scale,” he said. “From the beginning, our goal has been to develop a route that meets the critical energy needs of our public utility customers while having the least impact on people, the environment and cultural and historic resources, including the national forests.”
During the last year, Ruby said Dominion has “painstakingly” evaluated numerous routes through the national forests in an effort to minimize or avoid impacts to sensitive species and other environmental resources.
“We have also adopted several route modifications and other measures to specifically address Forest Service concerns,” he said in an email. “Of all the routes we have evaluated, we believe our proposed route has the least impact on those resources, and we believe it complies with the Forest Service’s Long Range Management Plans and species conservation agreements.”
At the request of the Forest Service and FERC, Ruby said Dominion will continue evaluating the feasibility of other potential alternatives through the national forests.
“Our evaluation of potential alternatives will be included in our response to the FERC, and will enable the Commission to perform a full and robust Environmental Impact Statement,” he said in an email.
The RVF newsletter said the foundation is “proud” of the role it played in the anti-ACP effort but added the opposition has been a group effort between many organizations in the area that have contributed in “important, complementary ways.”
“Everyone has been working tirelessly to protect the Valley we love. The FERC response is an initial payoff to our investment of time and money.”