Head to head: Feds approve controversial pipelines

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If the pipeline is approved, Richard Averitt will be hit on two fronts—his residential property and a commercial lot he bought with the dream to build a $35 million five-star boutique resort. Photo by Sanjay Suchak If the pipeline is approved, Richard Averitt will be hit on two fronts—his residential property and a commercial lot he bought with the dream to build a $35 million five-star boutique resort. Photo by Sanjay Suchak

Though the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved the Atlantic Coast Pipeline October 13, those opposing the $6 billion and 600-mile gas fracking project say they’re not going down without a fight.

“It’s not over by any means,” says Kirk Bowers, a program coordinator with the local chapter of the Sierra Club. Though he’s not showing his hand, he says his organization recently changed its policy against participating in civil disobedience and training sessions have been popping up across the commonwealth.

FERC also just approved the Mountain Valley Pipeline in southwest Virginia, where Bowers says opponents have blocked roads with their bodies, vehicles and gates to prevent surveyors from entering their properties.

In the case of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, he says environmental groups and their attorneys have 30 days to file appeals. And they will.

Dominion Energy sent out a press release late Friday night that the ACP had been issued a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity from FERC—the most significant milestone for the project yet, it said.

“Our public utility customers are depending on this infrastructure to generate cleaner electricity, heat homes and power local businesses,” says Leslie Hartz, Dominion’s vice president of engineering and construction, who says the project will result in lower energy costs and a cleaner environment, because the ACP will replace coal-burning power plants.

FERC chair Cheryl LaFleur dissented in the approval, and said the project isn’t in the public’s best interest, but noted that utility customers in Virginia and North Carolina have already subscribed to 90 percent of the pipeline’s natural gas capacity.

To proceed with construction, Dominion still needs water permits from the states in which the pipeline will run—West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina.

In West Virginia, where Dominion first asked the Department of Environmental Quality for the water permit, which it was granted, legal group Appalachian Mountain Advocates filed suit—and won—this summer. Now, the energy giant has to go back to the drawing board, according to Bowers, who says Virginia water permit hearings are slated to take place in Richmond in December.

Last week, the Sierra Club filed an appeal with the State Corporation Commission, Bowers says, because Dominion has allegedly contracted the ACP’s gas to its own affiliates without the SCC’s permission, which is required in Virginia.

In early September, anti-pipeline group Bold Alliance filed a property rights lawsuit against FERC, alleging the abuse of eminent domain for private gain.

Dominion has maintained it would only use eminent domain as a last resort. It also asserts that the ACP has undergone 300 route adjustments and one of the most thorough environmental reviews for a project of its scope.

“This unprecedented scrutiny should give assurance to all communities that their voices have been heard and that the project will be built in a way that protects public safety and the environment,” Hartz says.

Nelson County resident and affected landowner Richard Averitt is among 50 plaintiffs in the Bold Alliance suit.

“Hundreds of landowners have stood strong and have refused to negotiate with the pipeline companies,” he says. “We have vowed to fight to protect and defend what is constitutionally ours, and we will win.”

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