The U.S Forest Service is taking public comments through this Friday, January 9 on Dominion Resource’s request to survey the portion of the George Washington National Forest where it hopes to route a natural gas pipeline.
The Forest Service says it will consider the comments as it decides whether to allow Dominion surveyors to inspect 3,055 acres of USF land in Highland and Augusta counties along the proposed route of the planned 551-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would carry natural gas from fracking wells in West Virginia to southern North Carolina. The route includes a 12.6-mile stretch through the GWNF.
If Dominion’s request for a 12-month survey permit is approved, the company would be allowed to hand-clear brush and small saplings and conduct shovel tests within a 300-foot study corridor in order to determine cultural and environmental resources that could be affected by an eventual pipeline, according to a Forest Service letter explaining the request.
Forest Supervisor Thomas Speaks said in a December press release that an approval of the request doesn’t mean the Forest Service is giving the green light to the pipeline project as a whole. That decision lies with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
“At this time, we are seeking comments on survey activities; additional opportunities to comment on the specific route and construction of the proposed pipeline will be provided by the FERC in the coming months,” Speaks said in the release.
Governor Terry McAuliffe and other proponents of the project say Dominion’s pipeline will be an economic boon to the state, but there has been vocal opposition in communities along the route, particularly in central Virginia. Residents in Nelson and Augusta counties who have denied Dominion’s requests for surveys of their own properties have been hit by lawsuits. The company has said it intends to sue 122 landowners in Nelson and 56 in Augusta, citing a state statute that allows utility companies to gain access to private property to survey for projects that serve a public need.
The Forest Service has offered answers to some frequently asked questions about the survey here. To comment on the survey request, the Forest Service is asking citizens to e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.