CHARLESTON, W.Va. — While the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has suspended authorization for the Mountain Valley Pipeline to complete its route across four major rivers, environmental groups are seeking assurances that such crossings have been adequately examined.
The Army Corps of Engineers provided notice last week that it would indefinitely suspend the pipeline project’s authorization to discharge dredged and fill material into the Gauley River, the Greenbrier River, the Elk River and the Meadow River until the agency can determine compliance.
That decision was an outgrowth of a federal lawsuit by environmental groups challenging whether a nationwide permit appropriately protects how the four rivers could be affected by pipeline construction. The groups asked for a stay in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.
The lawsuit is against the Corps of Engineers. Mountain Valley Pipeline, an intervenor, has filed a motion asking for more time to respond.
The environmental groups say they have serious concerns.
They say that if the plans to cross four major streams are questionable, then the rest of the crossings along the route should be subject to greater regulatory scrutiny as well.
“The Elk, Greenbrier, Gauley and Meadow — these are big rivers, rugged terrain and are used by the public,” said Angie Rosser, director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, one of the parties in the federal court action.
“There will be a lot of eyes on this. We don’t want to see negative impacts that affect the people who live here and the people who visit here to negatively impact their experience.”
Mountain Valley Pipeline is one of several major pipeline projects affecting West Virginia. Mountain Valley would start in Wetzel County and cross 304 miles to deliver natural gas to market in Virginia.
Mountain Valley, like the other projects, has faced a number of legal challenges.
In this instance, the environmental groups led by the Sierra Club are challenging the use of a nationwide permit under the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to provide safeguards for how the pipeline project would affect water quality along its route.
“Our contention is that it’s not just about looking at these four rivers, but this nationwide permit doesn’t work for every river. They have to go back and do individual assessments for other streams and river crossings as well,” Rosser said.
“That is in the court’s hands at this point. We filed a motion for a stay, and the court would have to rule on that.”
The Elk, Greenbrier, Gauley and Meadow are of particular concern because they are so large.
“The longer these stream crossings take, the more opportunity there is for runoff to enter the stream in the form of sediment,” Rosser said.
“It also harkens back to our original concern, which was for a project this scale they were using this nationwide permit, which takes a one-size-fits-all approach to stream crossings.”
West Virginia regulatory officials last year waived the state’s option to tailor its own requirements within the nationwide permit.
The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection said it intended to rely on the nationwide permit in combination with a West Virginia stormwater discharge permit that would cover the entire length of the pipeline.
The department did ask for changes specific to West Virginia in a renewal for the nationwide permit on April 13 last year.
One of the additions included a condition that “individual stream crossings must be completed in a continuous,
progressive manner and within 72 hours during seasonal normal or below normal stream flow conditions.”
MVP has estimated that crossings of the Elk, Gauley, Greenbrier, and Meadow River crossings will take a total of four to six weeks to complete, with one to three weeks for each side of the crossings.
The pipeline development company has said actual, in-stream disturbance associated with installing the
portadam will take two to three working days.
DEP already had to cite the project for failing to control erosion at two work sites in late April.
Inspectors found flaws in erosion and sediment controls at two construction sites in Wetzel County. The project site had experienced four inches of rain over the week before the inspection.
In one instance, work crews failed to prevent sediment-laden water from leaving a site before first passing through a control device, according to the notice of violation.
At another site, erosion caused by heavy rains was not properly channeled down a hillside, causing a portion of the slope to give way.
In both cases, the sediment did not affect any water bodies.
A few days after the citation, MVP responded that it had shored up sediment controls on the project sites. “These corrective actions will prevent sediment laden water from leaving the location,” the pipeline company wrote in its response.
The early violations provide a cautionary tale, Rosser said.
“We’re seeing problems early on, which doesn’t bode well,” Rosser said. “This all needs to be figured out, thoughtfully, carefully before the project moves forward any further.”