ROANOKE — The task of building a natural gas pipeline through the mountains of Southwest Virginia while trying to curb stormwater runoff is about to meet its toughest test.
With Hurricane Florence fast approaching, the developers of the Mountain Valley Pipeline said Tuesday they were stopping construction and devoting all resources to preparing for the storm.
“We are taking all possible precautions in Virginia to ensure the safety of our crews and communities, as well as to protect and maintain erosion and sediment controls along MVP’s right-of-way,” the company said in a written statement.
The decision to temporarily halt construction and focus on stabilizing the strips of bare earth that mark the buried pipeline’s path was made in consultation with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.
In the past, clearing land and digging trenches for a 303-mile pipeline that starts in West Virginia has generated muddy runoff. Environmental regulators in both states have warned Mountain Valley that its erosion control measures failed to prevent sediment from being washed into nearby streams.
Those problems were precipitated by heavy rains, but nothing like what is forecast in the coming days. The National Weather Service expects Florence to produce at least 4 inches of rain over most of Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, with some amounts topping 10 inches, and possibly up to 30 inches near the hurricane landfall point on the coast.
“We never thought there would be something like this to deal with,” said Rick Shingles, a volunteer for Mountain Valley Watch, a citizens group that has been monitoring work on the pipeline since spring.
“It frightens us.”
Recent rains have already saturated the ground along some portions of the pipeline, “and precautionary measures have been implemented to address potential issues,” Mountain Valley’s statement read.
The Pittsburgh-based company said it was taking the following actions:
- Fuel tanks, pipe and equipment are being moved from floodplain areas.
- Equipment and other portable items are being removed from nearby streams and waterbodies. Temporary construction bridges are being individually evaluated and will either be secured or removed.
- Pipe will be secured in open trenches.
- Trenches where pipe has been laid will be backfilled to prevent ponding.
- Enhanced erosion and sediment controls will be installed at road crossings.
Since work on the $3.7 billion project began earlier this year, construction crews have struggled to comply with erosion control plans that are required by state and federal agencies to protect natural resources and drinking water.
Since April, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection has issued 12 notices of violation against Mountain Valley, official warnings that the company’s measures were not working.
The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality has issued one such notice, which covers multiple violations in the counties of Giles, Craig, Montgomery, Roanoke, Franklin and Pittsylvania.
And at least two noncompliance reports have also been filed by Transcon Environmental, a private company that has been hired to monitor work in the Jefferson National Forest.
So far, no formal enforcement actions or penalties have been imposed. In most cases, Mountain Valley has sent letters to the agencies informing them that problems are being addressed.
Mountain Valley spokeswoman Natalie Cox did not immediately respond to questions Tuesday about the notices of violations, which have doubled in number since June.
In its statement, the company said it was “committed to the safety of its communities, to the preservation and the protection of the environment, and to the continued responsible construction of this important natural gas infrastructure project.”