The U.S. Forest Service is seeking public comment about whether it should authorize surveying and study in the Jefferson National Forest by Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC crews for a possible pipeline route.

As currently configured, the proposed interstate natural gas pipeline would cross a total of about 2 miles of the Jefferson National Forest. One segment would be in Monroe County, West Virginia, and Giles County; the other section would be in Montgomery County.

Mountain Valley Pipeline has applied to the Forest Service for a temporary special use permit that would allow pipeline crews to examine a 300-foot-wide study corridor. The corridor would include about 77.5 acres of land in the Jefferson National Forest.

The Forest Service said that granting the special use permit would not necessarily mean it would later support the construction and operation of the proposed 42-inch diameter pipeline on Forest Service land.

American Indian artifacts, wetlands, family graveyards, bodies of water, sensitive and rare species of plants and animals and much more — survey crews flagging a possible route for the Mountain Valley Pipeline will, according to the company, search for these special features and adjust the route accordingly.

Along the pipeline’s 300-mile route, many property owners have decided to allow early-stage surveying of their properties. According to Mountain Valley Pipeline, the majority of property owners have granted permission.

Others have refused to grant access, a denial that can trigger a notification process by which Mountain Valley, if it follows the law, can come on a property without the owner’s permission.

Company officials with Mountain Valley Pipeline, a joint venture of EQT Corp. and NextEra Energy, have said that property owners ought to grant access so that the owners can point out features they would like the route to avoid.

Similarly, in a Forest Service news release, Tom Speaks, supervisor of the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests, suggests that the surveying proposed by Mountain Valley Pipeline could be useful later.

The information that would be gathered is “necessary to make future decisions on whether or not to allow the construction and operation of the proposed pipeline on the Jefferson National Forest,” Speaks said.

“If allowed, the survey information will inform us where to avoid or reduce the impacts to sensitive resources,” he said.

As proposed, the Mountain Valley Pipeline would transport natural gas at high pressure from West Virginia through the Virginia counties of Giles, Montgomery, Roanoke and Franklin. It would terminate at the Transco pipeline in Pittsylvania County.

Pipeline opponents say the $3.2 billion project poses significant risks to the environment, property rights, safety and property values, and suggest it provides direct support for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a controversial extraction process. They have advised property owners to deny permission for surveying.

Pipeline proponents say it could support the nation’s energy independence, provide a cleaner alternative than coal for electricity generation and yield a host of economic benefits.

Pipeline opponent Mara Robbins, a resident of Floyd County, has been active for months in the movement to stop the project. She is a community organizer with Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League.

“I urge the public to take the opportunity to advise the Forest Service to refuse any and all survey activity, as many private citizens have already done,” Robbins said Thursday in an email.

“The Jefferson National Forest deserves our protection, and if it is unsafe, unwise and unnecessary to construct a 42-inch fracked gas pipeline through this natural area that we wish to protect for the common good, it makes absolutely no sense to survey areas which need to be protected,” she said.

In turn, Natalie Cox, a spokeswoman for Mountain Valley, said in an email that the company has been working closely with the Forest Service during the early stages of planning and development for the pipeline route.

She said that seeking public comment is a standard part of the process and that Mountain Valley Pipeline “will continue to coordinate our efforts with the Forest Service to carefully design a route that will minimize disruption to landowners’ properties; avoid sensitive or protected areas when feasible; and limit surface disturbance and reduce the overall environmental footprint of the project.”

Mountain Valley Pipeline is in the early stages of seeking approval of the pipeline project from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The Forest Service said Mountain Valley Pipeline hopes to begin survey activities on the forest in February and continue studying a potential route through October.

Speaks hopes to decide by mid-March whether to issue the temporary special use permit for the surveying, according to the Forest Service.

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