The scale of damage to mountain ridges in the path of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline remains open for debate, but Bill and Lynn Limpert say they have no doubt what the project would do to an old-growth forest along the mountain ridge facing their retirement home in Bath County.
“If the Atlantic Coast Pipeline comes through our property, all these trees will be gone,” Bill Limpert said at a midday protest Thursday outside the office of Gov. Terry McAuliffe in downtown Richmond.
As an early and vocal supporter of the $5.1 billion project, McAuliffe has become the target of environmental groups that say the 600-mile natural gas pipeline would remove a 38-mile swath of mountain ridges in Virginia and West Virginia.
They contend construction of the 42-inch-diameter pipeline would result in “mountaintop removal,” with a 10- to 60-foot layer of rock and debris blasted from ridges in the Blue Ridge and Allegheny ranges.
“How do you remove the tops of mountains in an environmentally friendly way?” asked Mike Tidwell, executive director of Chesapeake Climate Action Network, one of the organizations that released the analysis last week and organized the protest outside of the Patrick Henry Building on East Broad Street.
Officials at Dominion, managing partner of the pipeline company, say the groups have “grossly exaggerated” the effects of pipeline construction. The company said it would clear a 125-foot-wide construction right of way that would level no more of mountain ridge lines than necessary to dig a trench 8 to 10 feet deep and wide; create a travel lane for work vehicles; and fit pipe sections together.
The “overburden,” as the rock and other debris is called, also would be kept within the right of way, used in part as a travel lane, and then restored to the original contour of the slope, said Brittany Moody, manager of engineering projects for Dominion Transmission Inc. “It’s all going back.”
That won’t be possible for the centuries-old trees in the proposed path of the pipeline up the steep slopes of Jack Mountain on the Limperts’ 120-acre property in Little Valley. Staunton forester Mark Sims assessed the forest last year and said it “may be the oldest stand of timber that I have looked at in Virginia.”
Moody acknowledged that the pipeline company couldn’t restore 200-year-old trees, although it would reforest parts of the construction corridor outside the permanent 50-foot right of way for the pipeline.
But she and construction manager Greg Park said the mountaintops wouldn’t resemble strip-mined landscapes.
“We only use exactly what we need to,” said Park, who has supervised pipeline construction for Dominion in West Virginia.
Some ridges may be cut as much as 10 feet, but nowhere near the 60 feet predicted by opponents, he said. “I’ve never cut down that far to build a pipeline.”
The pipeline wasn’t originally proposed through Bath, but the company rerouted the path last year in response to opposition by the U.S. Forest Service to a route that would have passed through the habitat of endangered salamanders in the George Washington and Monongahela National Forests.
Similarly, the pipeline originally wasn’t proposed to pass along the ridge of Roberts Mountain next to the Nelson County property where Joe and Nancy McMoneagle live and she operates the Monroe Institute, an educational institution for human consciousness. But the company changed the route two years ago in part to avoid Davis Creek — on the other side of the mountain — where the worst landslides and loss of life occurred after torrential rains from Hurricane Camille in 1969.
“It’s a very unstable mountain,” warned Joe McMoneagle, president of the New Land Home Owners Association for residents at the base of Roberts Mountain who fear pipeline construction would destroy their water supply from the mountain.
Park and Moody say they have designed the project to avoid the areas most prone to landslides and use “best in class” practices for stabilizing slopes to avoid landslides, as well as erosion and sedimentation of streams.