Friday, August 16, 2019

Work suspended on Mountain Valley Pipeline

Roanoke Times map
"Developers of the Mountain Valley Pipeline have voluntarily suspended work on parts of the embattled project, three days after a lawsuit raised questions about its impact on endangered species," Laurence Hammack reports for The Roanoke Times. "In a letter Thursday to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Mountain Valley said the suspension covers 'new activities' that could pose a threat to the lives of endangered bats and fish, or potentially destroy their habitat."

On Monday, a group of environmental organizations petitioned the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to vacate a 2017 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service opinion that the pipeline would not significantly harm endangered species along the pipeline's route. "The 4th Circuit has already thrown out a similar permit issued for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, ruling that the federal agency had apparently 'lost sight of its mandate,'" Hammack reports.

Mountain Valley spokesperson Natalie Cox said construction will continue on other areas along the pipeline where no impact on endangered species is anticipated. About 238 of the pipeline's 303 miles have already been constructed. Cox said the move would not have any "material impact" on the number of workers employed and won't delay the expected mid-2020 completion date, Hammack reports.

"Most work will be halted on a 75-mile stretch, along watersheds in the counties of Giles, Craig, Montgomery, Roanoke, Franklin, and Pittsylvania. Another 20 miles, including some streams and rivers in West Virginia, are also included," Hammack reports. "Mountain Valley also said it would cease tree-felling in areas populated by endangered bats. But with the exception of a wooded slope in Montgomery County — where two tree-sitters have been blocking work on the pipeline since last September — nearly all of the trees the company had planned to cut are already gone."

This is far from the first delay for the pipeline on environmental grounds. Mountain Valley halted the project in Virginia for a while last summer because muddy runoff from construction caused erosion problems along a two-mile stretch. Then in August 2018 construction halted for a month after a federal appeals court vacated a permit to cross the Jefferson National Forest. In December. Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring filed suit against the pipeline's builders, saying they had violated environmental regulations more than 300 times. "The company is still trying to regain two sets of key permits it lost to legal challenges last year, one for the pipeline to cross through the national forest and another for it to cross more than 1,000 streams and wetlands," Hammack reports.

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