RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Virginia Water Control Board is hosting two meetings next week in Richmond to discuss the environmental impact of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
State environmental groups say this is the last hurdle before Dominion Energy and its partners can begin construction on the 600-mile (965-kilometer) natural gas pipeline that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission signed off on in October. The approximately $5 billion project will travel from West Virginia through Virginia and into North Carolina.
The pipeline is expected to pass through 10 Virginia counties, starting in Southwest Virginia before passing into North Carolina in Greensville County. Another branch is planned to begin at the North Carolina border and connect the pipeline to Chesapeake, Virginia.
The meetings, being held at Trinity Family Life Center in Richmond’s East End, are taking place Monday and Tuesday, beginning at 9:30 a.m.
The meetings are being held as part of a requirement put in the Clean Water Act that says that the state has to determine that the project doesn’t violate state water quality standards.
The Virginia Water Control Board has already received around 15,000 public comments on the matter and will be hearing a presentation from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality on Monday. On Tuesday the Board will give citizens a chance to respond to the public comments.
After hearing all the perspectives on the matter, the Water Control Board will vote to either approve the project, deny the project conditionally or deny the project permanently.
Representatives from the Potomac Riverkeeper Network who oppose the project said in an interview Wednesday that the proposed pipeline creates huge environmental impacts on waterways throughout the state.
They said sediment from pipeline construction and erosion caused by the building will soil drinking water downstream.
“The impacts are clear,” Phillip Musegaas, Vice President of Programs and Litigation for Potomac Riverkeepers said. “[The proposed pipeline] crosses 900 plus streams. We don’t currently know the sediment impacts from this project, but we know that behind manure and nutrient pollution, sediment and erosion is the largest pollutant to our waterways.”
Mark Frondorf, who manages the conservation of the Shenandoah River for Potomac Riverkeepers agreed.
“This is the greatest threat to Virginia water quality in the last 50 years,” Frondorf said.
Aaron Ruby, a spokesperson from Dominion said in an email that Dominion has done more than enough to ensure that water quality will not be impacted by the construction of the pipeline.
“At every stage, we’ve taken great care to meet the highest water quality standards,” Ruby said. “Going well above and beyond regulatory requirements, we’ve adopted some of the most protective measures ever used by the industry to prevent erosion or other impacts to the state’s water quality.”
According to Ruby, the fact that the project has passed FERC, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service and Virginia DEQ standards shows that it will have “minimal impacts on forests, wildlife, streams and rivers.”
“This unprecedented scrutiny should assure all Virginians that their water quality will be protected,” Ruby said.
Meanwhile, environmental regulators in West Virginia and North Carolina are also acting.
The North Carolina DEQ asked Atlantic Coast Pipeline developers this week for more information for an air quality permit for a compressor station to push gas downstream. The News & Observer of Raleigh reports a Dec. 15 permit issuance deadline has been suspended. That permit decision now depends on the company sending and reviewing the information.
In West Virginia environmental regulators announced Wednesday that they are holding two public hearings on issuing a construction stormwater permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection said that if approved, that permit would give the state agency wide-ranging inspection and enforcement authority over the project.
At the same time, the department said it was waiving its issuance of a state certification under the federal Clean Water Act, saying provisions in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers nationwide permit are “designed to mirror” the state’s terms. “Under the nationwide permit, enforcement would be left to federal agencies and would be limited to stream crossings,” it said.
Ruby also reached out via email Wednesday to comment on the decision in West Virginia.
“Today’s decision by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection is another significant milestone for the project and a key step toward beginning construction later this year,” Ruby said in his statement. “At every stage of the project, we’ve taken great care to meet the highest standards for the protection of water quality. In many cases, we’ve gone above and beyond regulatory requirements and adopted some of the most protective measures ever used by the industry.”