Hurricane could devastate Virginia pipeline project

September 11

Work crews are racing to prepare for catastrophic rain from Hurricane Florence in mountainous areas where a major natural gas pipeline is under construction, as an abnormally wet summer has already overcome some efforts to prevent runoff and erosion.

The situation places a spotlight on the unusually demanding environment being crossed by the Mountain Valley Pipeline, as well as the stress being put on state regulators to keep up after years of budget cuts.

Work had resumed on the Mountain Valley Pipeline in Southwest Virginia at the end of last month after a federal agency lifted a moratorium. A federal court had suspended some permits for the 303-mile project, but those issues are being resolved.

Now, though, the company leading the effort said all work has stopped again and resources are being diverted to shore up construction zones against flooding and possible wind damage.

“We are taking all possible precautions in Virginia to ensure the safety of our crews and communities, as well as to protect and maintain erosion and sediment controls along MVP’s right-of-way,” said a statement from EQT Midstream Partners, the Pittsburgh company driving the pipeline project.

Pipeline construction involves clearing trees in a 125-foot-wide swath up and down mountains, digging pits for the 42-inch-wide pipe, crossing or tunneling under streams and rivers and moving earth along steep slopes. Managing both runoff from storms as well as keeping erosion out of pristine waterways is a massive job, even without the threat of catastrophic rainfall.

Landowners affected by the construction route as well as environmental groups who have protested the pipeline are bracing for the worst.

“I have great fears about what’s going to happen in the next several days,” said David Sligh, who is retired from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and now works with the Wild Virginia advocacy group.

The pipeline’s route through extraordinarily rugged terrain and steep slopes crisscrossed by streams has already caused significant issues with erosion and runoff. State officials have said that while the project is meeting all construction guidelines, those guidelines are based on standards that do not account for recent changes in weather patterns.

At a hearing last month in Richmond, members of the State Water Control Board asked staff about photos showing numerous Mountain Valley Pipeline sites where streams had turned brown with runoff or areas were choked with thick layers of eroded sediment.  Continue story HERE

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