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Workers return to Atlantic Coast Pipeline construction

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Atlantic Coast Pipeline is putting its workers back on the job right away after receiving federal approval to resume construction.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the pipeline’s permits were based on a faulty right-of-way through national park lands. So construction of the 600-mile pipeline project was stopped on Aug. 13 until the pipeline could be rerouted.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Monday gave approval to start again after the National Park Service issued a new right-of-way permit.

“Yesterday, we got fantastic news from FERC,” Bob Orndorff, the state policy manager for Dominion Resources, told the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Natural Gas Development.

“We fixed those issues and FERC lifted our stay. So our folks are back to work, starting today.”

The pipeline project — a joint venture of electric utilities Dominion Energy, Duke Energy and Southern Co. — employs 17,000 workers across three states.

West Virginia’s number of jobs while the construction work continues is 3,100, although that number may vary depending on the stage of the project.

Orndorff said those workers were not subject to layoffs during the construction pause. He said competition for their services is too high to turn them loose.

“Tremendous competition,” Orndorff said. “Tremendous competition for welders, tremendous competition for operators. You want the best on your job. So if you have the best, you’d better continue to pay them to keep them there, so they will continue to work for you.”

So the construction workers continued to be paid while reporting to work, Orndorff said. While they could not work on construction, they did continue to perform tasks — even if it meant volunteering on community projects.

“We require them to come to work every day in order to get paid, so they have to report in the morning,” Orndorff said.

“Some of the workers can go out and maintain erosion sedimentation devices; they can do work within the yard itself; we’ve had a couple of volunteer projects where we’re done some things locally within the community.”

Stopping construction might have affected the economy in other ways, Orndorff said.

Because there are so many construction workers, the pipeline developers reserve hotel rooms and campground spaces in advance.

With uncertainty, Orndorff said, “that hurts that local business owner, the local hotel owner who had anticipated renting that room.”

The $6.5 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline starts in Harrison County and proceeds across Lewis, Upshur, Randolph and Pocahontas counties in West Virginia before heading into Virginia and then into North Carolina.

The separate but similar Mountain Valley Pipeline also is moving along with its construction.

Joe Dawley, deputy general counsel for EQT, the developer of Mountain Valley Pipeline, also addressed West Virginia lawmakers.

He described 9,000 direct, indirect and induced jobs across the project at peak of construction.

Mountain Valley Pipeline had a similar halt to construction last month in response to a federal order.

Federal appeals judges ruled two key federal approvals don’t provide adequate protection on the Mountain Valley Pipeline’s route through the Jefferson National Forest, which includes Monroe County.

The Sierra Club and other environmental groups had challenged approvals by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management over a 3.6-mile segment of the pipeline’s route through the national forest.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued a letter in late August, giving the go-ahead to resume pipeline construction except for the specific areas in question.

Asked whether permits have been updated yet to allow work on the national forest route, Dawley responded, “They have not.”

The $3.5 billion 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 in West Virginia.

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