A “jumbled mess” of hundreds of clear-cut trees still lie at the entrance to Wintergreen, across Route 664 and up the side of Piney Mountain.
Dominion Energy started knocking them down to make way for its Atlantic Coast Pipeline in Nelson County on March 6, a day the locals now refer to as the “Tuesday Chainsaw Massacre.”
Because the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ordered the company to quell its tree felling until the fall to respect the flight patterns of migratory birds and the state’s population of endangered Indiana bats, it’s been awful quiet in Nelson County—but probably not for long.
Wintergreen resident David Schwiesow estimates that the company building the pipeline has only completed 10 percent of its total destruction in his area.
“Dominion will be coming back to continue the rape of Piney Mountain,” he says, estimating that 7,000 trees, plus rhododendrons, mountain laurel and other ground cover will be cut before it’s all said and done. “So the worst is yet to come at Wintergreen.”
When FERC approved construction of the ACP in October and prohibited Dominion from clearing trees from mid-March to September in Virginia, Dominion agreed. But as the time to stop cutting came closer, the company asked for permission to extend its clearing period by two months—a request that FERC denied on March 28.
“We are cautiously optimistic that FERC will stick to this decision,” says Schwiesow. “In the past, FERC has rubber stamped everything Dominion has requested.”
The clear-cutting has devastated those living near it, he says.
“Wintergreen residents are horrified by the destruction, including many who hadn’t really paid attention to the issue,” he continues. “One neighbor of ours on Fortune’s Ridge told us that she pulled off [Route] 664, got out of her car, looked at the destruction and just started to cry.”
The Department of Environmental Equality has cited Dominion for at least 15 clear-cutting violations, and the Wintergreen resident says he and other pipeline opponents are reporting a couple more from the alleged damage done in their neck of the woods. They’ve measured trees cut within 50 feet of a stream across the entrance to the resort, and also within 50 feet of the south fork of the Rockfish River on the other side of Route 664, aka Beech Grove Road.
“Dominion is arrogant and seems to believe that they’re above the law,” says Schwiesow.
Dominion spokesperson Aaron Ruby says his company wasn’t able to clear all the trees they’d hoped to this year, so that work will be pushed into the fall and the beginning of next year.
In the meantime, contractors are clearing and grading at ACP compressor station sites, and after they get a few remaining approvals this spring, they’ll start constructing the pipeline along the 200 miles of the route that have already been cleared from West Virginia, through Virginia and into North Carolina. They’re still on track to wrap up construction by the end of next year, he says.
That doesn’t bode well for the heavy opposition that has amassed since the project was proposed in September 2014.
On St. Patrick’s Day weekend, Schwiesow attended a protest at the resort’s entrance with about 100 other pipeline opponents, including his wife, Nancy, who gave a short speech.
“To some, it feels like the end of the fight,” she said to the crowd. “Dominion has won. But that is wrong.
I am more angry, upset and determined to fight Dominion and its despicable pipeline than I ever have been.”