The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has suspended a national permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to cross more than 1,500 streams in three states, raising a potential new barrier for construction of the project through Virginia.
About half of the 600-mile pipeline would be built in Virginia from West Virginia to North Carolina, but Dominion Energy and its partners are still waiting for federal regulators to allow them to proceed with construction here.
The Army Corps’ offices in Norfolk, Wilmington, N.C., and Pittsburgh issued orders late Tuesday to suspend the Nationwide 12 permit’s use for the project’s stream crossings.
“The Army Corps of Engineers’ wise decision underscores the serious concerns we have had that a general permit is not sufficient to protect Virginia’s water quality,” said Rebecca Tomazin, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in Virginia. “In order to ensure the protection of Virginia’s waterways, we believe that individual permits should govern construction at each crossing.”
Dominion spokeswoman Jen Kostyniuk said the company had voluntarily offered to suspend the permit for all three states while attempting to resolve issues from a decision by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this month. In that decision, the court issued a temporary stay of the permit for stream and river crossings in West Virginia.
“We are confident that this issue will be resolved in a timely manner and we do not expect the project schedule to be affected by this voluntary suspension,” Kostyniuk wrote in a statement.
“We successfully completed West Virginia summer construction with stay provisions in place and expect ACP’s fall and winter construction will also proceed in a productive manner in compliance with the stay provisions,” she said.
Kostyniuk said the permit is necessary for “a small amount of the total work area in Virginia.” Dominion expects the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to issue a notice to proceed with construction “soon,” she said.
The 4th Circuit issued a stay of the nationwide permit Nov. 7 for stream and river crossings in two West Virginia counties, based on an appeal by Appalachian Mountain Advocates on behalf of the Sierra Club and four other environmental organizations.
The appeal challenged the legality of Dominion’s plan to completely dam the Greenbrier River in West Virginia in order to meet a state requirement to cross the river within 72 hours to minimize harm to aquatic life.
The 4th Circuit, which will hear arguments in the case in January, already had vacated the nationwide permit for the Mountain Valley Pipeline to cross rivers in West Virginia because the project didn’t comply with the 72-hour rule.
This is the second time Dominion and its partners have asked the Corps to temporarily suspend the permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline while they look for a way to abide by the rule.
The Corps temporarily suspended the permit July 27, then reinstated it Oct. 19 after the pipeline company proposed to cross the Greenbrier within 72 hours by closing off the entire river instead of half to dig a trench for the pipe.
Environmental organizations challenged the solution as a violation of another permit condition that forbids any placement of any structure in the river that prevents fish from swimming around it.
After the 4th Circuit issued the temporary stay, Appalachian Mountain Advocates asked the Corps to suspend the nationwide permits in all three states pending the appeal’s outcome.
“For the some 1,556 stream crossings in West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina, these actions are a welcome pause/time-out for the valuable and vulnerable waters that bless our three states,” said Cindy Rank of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, one of the organizations that appealed the permit.