LOVINGSTON — A chapter of the ongoing permitting process for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline began unfolding in Nelson on Tuesday, when the Board of Zoning Appeals took a first swing at reviewing applications for the project to cross a number of floodplains in the county.
As a result of updates to the General Floodplain District article of the Nelson County Zoning Ordinance passed in September, the ACP is required to go before the BZA to obtain variances for 11 floodplain crossings in the county. According to ACP’s variance applications, the project would cross 4½ miles of floodplain in the county — 3½ miles of which are the pipeline itself and 1 mile is constituted in access roads.
ACP is required to seek variances for the floodplain crossings because under the updated ordinance, the pipeline would qualify as a “critical facility” that normally would not be allowed to be constructed in a floodplain.
State law mandates a decision on the applications must be rendered within 90 days of the application date, which was Tuesday.
The Nelson BZA is a quasi-judicial body made up of five members and an alternate appointed by a Nelson County Circuit Court judge to hear and make decisions about zoning appeals and variance applications. The board rarely takes up such applications and last met in December 2016.
Members are Gifford Childs, Ronnie Moyer, Angela Jones, Carole Saunders, alternate Shelby Bruguiere and Mary Kathryn Allen, who acts as the Planning Commission’s representative. All members were present Tuesday.
Although the 600-mile, interstate natural-gas pipeline — which would cross a total of about 27 miles in Nelson — has received federal approval and a number of other important federal and state permits, officials with the project still are working to receive some local permits, including the variances in Nelson.
Nelson, however, is unique in its review of the floodplain crossings.
Of 14 localities in Virginia crossed by the ACP, 11 do not require permits or other such approvals for floodplain crossings, or their approvals can be or already have been taken care of by a zoning administrator, according to Aaron Ruby, a spokesman for Dominion Energy, the lead partner of the ACP.
“I’m surprised that other counties don’t have this, honestly,” Childs said. “… I think in our case, it is [good to have a public process like this].”
Southampton County’s process does require approval by a public body, and two of the five floodplain crossings there already have been approved, Ruby said. ACP is working through the other three with Southampton and expects to receive approval for those soon.
The floodplain crossing approval process for Nottoway County is unclear because ACP has not yet commenced the process there, according to Nottoway’s planning department. Construction in Nottoway would take place later than other localities in Virginia, making it a lesser priority currently, Ruby said.
Ruby said ACP already has received floodplain crossing approvals for many of the counties in which they are required. He added ACP expects to receive approval this year for other localities in which it has submitted required applications.
Permitting processes for ACP floodplain crossings in West Virginia and North Carolina are administrative in nature, meaning they do not have to go before a public body, according to Ruby.
During the meeting Tuesday, the BZA ironed out a number of logistical details related to the pipeline review, including establishing procedures for future meetings and retaining legal counsel and technical assistance for the review.
The BZA voted unanimously to retain David Shreve, the former Campbell county attorney who has a private practice in Altavista, as legal counsel for the review.
Nelson County will foot the bill for Shreve’s work. Shreve’s hourly rate for government work is $300, and he will charge $150 per hour for driving time. A final price tag for Shreve’s work has not been determined given the ongoing nature of the pipeline review.
While the BZA acts independently of the county, the county still is on the hook for the bill.
Because the county will be paying, the Nelson County Board of Supervisors voted in December to approve funding for the BZA to retain legal counsel for the review. Supervisors were informed of Shreve’s fees before the vote.
Also during Tuesday’s meeting, the BZA voted unanimously to request technical assistance for the review from Draper Aden Associates, an engineering, environmental services and surveying firm with offices across the commonwealth and in parts of North Carolina.
ACP, the applicant, rather than the county, will be asked to pay Draper Aden Associates for its work.
The BZA adopted a formal set of procedures for public hearings during the meeting, as well. The procedures say speakers must sign up to speak during the hearings and will be limited to three minutes unless they are representing a group; in that case, they have five minutes to speak.
“I think guidelines are very appropriate. I think that when people come here, and they know there are going to be time limits, they know to be prepared,” Allen said. “… It gives everyone a chance to speak.”
At the suggestion of Shreve, the BZA determined it would take up and make decisions on the 11 floodplain crossing applications individually. Board members agreed going about the review that way will limit confusion and provide for a “clean record” for each application.
Public hearings also will be conducted for each of the 11 applications.
The BZA is scheduled to meet next Feb. 5, but discussion during Tuesday’s meeting signaled the BZA would use the meeting to convene a closed session to go over application details with Shreve and Draper Aden Associates.
Public hearings for the applications were set for 7 p.m. Feb. 12.
The board plans to hold its Feb. 12 public hearing in the auditorium of Nelson County High School. Additionally, the BZA left open the possibility of extending the public hearings a day if there is not adequate time to hear all public comments.