Pipeline scene at Wintergreen

A path has been cleared for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline on this Blue Ridge Mountain slope at the entrance to Wintergreen resort, just below the project’s disputed crossing beneath the Appalachian Trail.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Friday ordered a temporary halt to construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline all along its route.

The agency cited a decision Monday by a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to toss out two key federal permits issued for the $5.5 billion, 600-mile natural gas pipeline.

Those were a National Park Service right of way permit for the pipeline to cross the Blue Ridge Parkway between Augusta and Nelson counties and a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the “incidental taking” of five threatened or endangered species in its path.

FERC indicated that the stop work order is meant to give the parties time to resolve issues the three-judge panel cited in its unanimous ruling.

“There is no reason to believe that the NPS, as the land managing agency, will not be able to comply with the court’s instructions and to ultimately issue a new right of way grant that satisfies the court’s requirements, or that FWS will not be able to issue an Incidental Take Statement that does likewise,” Terry L. Turpin, director of the Office of Energy Projects, wrote Friday in notifying Matthew R. Bley, director of Gas Transmission Certificates for Dominion Energy Transmission Inc., of the stop work order.

“However, commission staff cannot predict when [the National Park Service or the Fish and Wildlife Service] may act or whether NPS will ultimately approve the same route,” he wrote.

“Should NPS authorize an alternative crossing location, Atlantic may need to revise substantial portions of the ACP route across non-federal or federal lands, possibly requiring further authorizations and environmental review.

“Accordingly, allowing continued construction poses the risk of expending substantial resources and substantially disturbing the environment by constructing facilities that ultimately might have to be relocated or abandoned.”

Environmental groups hailed the decision.

“FERC made the right decision to stop construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and protect public lands, rivers and streams, and private property from unnecessary harm,” said Southern Environmental Law Center attorney Greg Buppert.

“With so many unknowns remaining about this project, now is the right time for the commission to grant rehearing and get to the bottom of Dominion’s overblown and unsupported claims of public benefit.”

A spokesman for Dominion Energy, which leads the Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC, said efforts toward resolution are underway.

“We are already working with the key agencies to resolve the issues in FERC’s order so we can resume construction as soon as possible,” spokesman Aaron Ruby said Friday night.

“We are confident these issues can be resolved quickly without causing unnecessary delay to the project.”

Ruby also said FERC gave the pipeline an opportunity to provide evidence of portions of the project that serve “an independent public need” and are not affected by the recent court rulings.

He said that includes portions of the project that “will serve home heating and manufacturing needs in eastern Virginia and North Carolina.”

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acain@timesdispatch.com

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Twitter: @AndrewCainRTD

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