CHARLESTON, W.VA. — Developers of the Mountain Valley Pipeline are suing the three members of the Fayette County Commission, saying they’ve unreasonably delayed progress on the proposed 300-mile, $3.5 billion project.
The pipeline developers dispute the commissioners’ decision last week to deny a rezoning application to build one of three compressor stations along the pipeline route.
The developers filed their lawsuit Friday in federal court in Charleston against Fayette County Commissioners Matthew D. Wender, Denise Scalph and John Brenemen.
They contend the federal Natural Gas Act and the Pipeline Safety Act preempt Fayette County’s zoning ordinance. They argue that approval of a certificate by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission specifically authorizes construction and operation of the compressor station.
The lawsuit asks for the Fayette commissioners to be prevented from enforcing the local zoning ordinance.
“While MVP has attempted in good faith to cooperate with the Fayette County Commission (consistent with the requirement imposed by the MVP certificate), the Fayette County Commission has now delayed the local permitting process so much that MVP’s construction schedule will be unreasonably delayed if MVP continues to seek issuance of a rezoning approval and required permits under the Fayette County zoning ordinance,” wrote lawyers for the pipeline developers.
“If construction of the Stallworth Station is delayed in the manner described above, MVP will be unable to work according to its construction schedule and will incur additional delay, fees and contractor costs.”
Mountain Valley Pipeline would extend 42-inch diameter natural gas pipeline over 303 miles to transport West Virginia natural gas into southern Virginia.
The pipeline would go through Wetzel, Harrison, Doddridge, Lewis, Braxton, Webster, Nicholas, Greenbrier, Fayette, Summers, and Monroe counties.
The pipeline developers want to build a compressor station on three parcels of land currently zoned for residential uses in Fayette County. The property collectively is called the Stallworth Station.
Compressor stations increase the pressure on natural gas to keep it moving through the pipeline.
The Sierra Club earlier issued a statement contending that compressor stations are known for leaks of methane and other toxic chemicals that can cause negative health effects to people who are exposed.
“No community should be saddled with the dangers of a compressor station, which would threaten their health and enjoyment of their community,” stated Bill Price, Sierra Club Senior Organizing Representative.
“Allowing the change in zoning goes against the Comprehensive Plan that the people in Fayette County are proud of. The Mountain Valley Pipeline would transport dirty, dangerous fracked gas through Fayette County, threatening the community’s air, water and property values. The compressor station for the project must be rejected before it can threaten the rural lifestyle of Fayette County residents.”
At the conclusion of a public hearing on Nov. 17, The Fayette County Commission denied MVP’s rezoning application.
“Even if MVP pursues a legal challenge to the decision (which, as explained below, involves an uncertain procedural course), the rezoning denial will result in an unreasonable delay in the construction of the Stallworth Station that will increase MVP’s expense, diminish its revenue, and delay the delivery of significant benefits that the MVP Project will bring to the public,” the lawyers for the pipeline developers wrote in their lawsuit.
The referenced procedural course open to MVP — aside from the federal lawsuit — would be to go to Fayette County’s Board of Zoning Appeals while also filing a challenge of the denial in Fayette Circuit Court.
“Regardless of which entity would ultimately hear the merits of such an appeal, the proceedings to hear MVP’s challenge to the Rezoning Denial would undoubtedly require a significant time before a decision was issued, and would have the effect of delaying the construction of the Southworth Station for an indeterminate time,” lawyers for MVP wrote.
The Stallworth Property is currently zoned in a rural-residential district designed for single-family housing. MVP would need for the project to be rezoned as an “H-1 District” that would allow for special uses. The pipeline developers say it’s optimal for the compressor station to be built on a relatively secluded tract of land.
“The Stallworth Property was selected because it was far superior to other potential sites in terms of topography, site access, surrounding land use (including population density and distance from residences) and overall environmental considerations,” lawyers for the developers wrote.
“It will require significantly less cut and fill to achieve a buildable site, is easily accessible from the nearby County Route 29 and is located on the top of a hill with dense deciduous forest all around it.”
The developers contend they have been trying to work with Fayette County officials in a way that would satisfy local ordinances. They note that they took part in several public meetings about the proposed compressor stations.
MVP says it anticipates being in a position to start access road construction for the Stallworth Station by mid December and then full construction by early this coming January.
The pipeline developers say it’s essential for the Stallworth Station to be in service by December, 2018.
The other proposed compressor stations for the MVP project are in Wetzel and Braxton counties.
The developers of Mountain Valley Pipeline also filed a federal lawsuit Oct. 24 to gain eminent domain access to properties along the proposed route through West Virginia. The West Virginia lawsuit lists more than 140 pieces of property where the pipeline developers say they need access for easements.
A similar lawsuit focusing on properties along the pipeline’s path in Virginia was filed on the same date in Roanoke. The Virginia lawsuit names more than 300 private properties.
Both cases ask for immediate access and entry to be granted prior to just compensation for the property being determined.