Mountaintop removal: Groups argue its definition

Drainage from a mountain named Big Ridge will affect two of the state’s remaining native brook trout streams, Townsend Draft and Erwin Draft. Photo courtesy of Rick Webb Drainage from a mountain named Big Ridge will affect two of the state’s remaining native brook trout streams, Townsend Draft and Erwin Draft. Photo courtesy of Rick Webb

In an April 27 telepresser, a number of environmental groups discussed Dominion’s alleged plans to decapitate 38 miles of ridgelines in Virginia and West Virginia to make way for the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline. About 5.6 of those miles are atop Roberts Mountain in Nelson County.

Moderated by the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, spokespeople from anti-pipeline groups Friends of Nelson, Appalachian Mountain Advocates and the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance discussed some key points of mountaintop removal, including that the majority of the mountains in question would be flattened by 10 to 20 feet, with some places along the route requiring the removal of about 60 feet of ridgetop.

Mountaintop removal also results in an excess of material, known as overburden. In this case, Dominion would likely need to dispose of about 2.47 million cubic yards of it, according to the environmental groups.

“The information that was put out by these groups last week is just totally inaccurate,” says Dominion spokesperson Aaron Ruby. “We’re not conducting mountaintop removal. That is a total mischaracterization of how we’re building this pipeline.”

According to Ruby, Dominion will “clear and grade a relatively limited area on certain ridgelines,” so workers will have enough space to dig a 10-foot-wide trench, install the pipe and fill the trench back in.

“It is astounding that [the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] has not required Dominion to produce a plan for dealing with the millions of cubic yards of excess [overburden],” says Ben Luckett, a staff attorney at Appalachian Mountain Advocates. FERC will eventually approve or deny the project.

But Ruby says that claim from Luckett isn’t true, either. “We are required by federal regulations to fully restore those ridgelines to their original contours using the native material that is either graded or excavated. …For these groups to say we’re going to level the tops of mountains and remove 250,000 dump truck loads of material is completely inaccurate.”

Approximately two miles of ridgeline are proposed to be removed (and replaced) in western Highland County in the George Washington National Forest. According to Rick Webb, the program coordinator for the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition, drainage from a mountain there named Big Ridge will affect two of the state’s remaining native brook trout streams, Townsend Draft and Erwin Draft.

“The Atlantic Coast Pipeline could easily prove itself deadly,” says Joyce Burton, a board member of Friends of Nelson. “Many of the slopes along the right of way are significantly steeper than a black diamond ski slope. Both FERC and Dominion concede that constructing pipelines on these steep slopes can increase the potential for landslides, yet they still have not demonstrated how they propose to protect us from this risk. With all of this, it is clear that the pipeline is a recipe for disaster.”

Ruby says his company has extensively studied all of the steep slopes they will encounter while installing the ACP and have developed a best-in-class program for construction on those areas that goes beyond federal regulations and has been thoroughly evaluated by FERC, which confirmed its effectiveness.

“My company has built over 2,000 miles of underground pipeline through West Virginia and Western Pennsylvania,” he says. “How many pipelines has the Chesapeake Climate Action Network built?”

Updated May 3 at 4pm to correct a misquote.

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