More than 13,000 written comments have been submitted to a state board that invited public input on how two huge natural gas pipelines will impact Virginia’s water bodies.
It could take weeks to process the information and present it in a meaningful form to the State Water Control Board, a spokeswoman said Monday.
Pipeline opponents are calling on the board to take swift action in reviewing a federal permit that governs how streams, rivers and wetlands will be crossed by the Mountain Valley Pipeline in Southwest Virginia and a similar natural gas transmission line to the east, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
“It is clear that there is already damage occurring,” Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, said at a news conference held Monday to push for a state-ordered stop to construction.
At a meeting in April, the water board decided to invite written comments on the adequacy of permits issued for the projects by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The deadline for emails and letters was Friday.
About 2,600 emails were received about the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which will cross streams and wetlands more than 500 times on its path through six Virginia counties.
Approximately 7,100 emails involved the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, according to Virginia Department of Environmental Quality spokeswoman Ann Regn. Another 3,500 letters, reports and other paper records were submitted; it wasn’t clear Monday how many of those were related to each pipeline.
Regn said that the board is currently scheduled to meet Aug. 21, and that the comments must first be reviewed by DEQ staff members in a process that could take weeks.
Critics are calling for a meeting much sooner. Tree cutting and land clearing by Mountain Valley have already caused environmental damage, they say, and more problems are expected when construction workers begin to blast bedrock and dig trenches for the 42-inch diameter steel pipe.
The 303-mile pipeline will start in West Virginia, where environmental regulators have issued three notices to Mountain Valley that it is violating rules meant to control erosion and sediment. DEQ is investigating similar problems with runoff and mudslides in Virginia but has so far taken no enforcement action.
A citizen monitoring group, Mountain Valley Watch, has submitted to DEQ about 25 reports of what it says are unchecked erosion.
“Without real enforcement, the work of these volunteers will stand as an ugly and permanent record of irreversible failure,” said Russell Chisholm of Giles County, one of about a half-dozen pipeline opponents to speak at Monday’s news conference.
A common refrain was hope that the water board will step in to provide protections that are lacking with the Army Corps permit, which critics say takes a blanket approach with no analysis of individual stream crossings.
With that hope came concerns that DEQ, the state agency that works with the board, will try to block the process.
“DEQ filters information far better than our water,” said Cynthia Munley, founder of Preserve Salem.