skd pipelineconstruction 032519 p04

Mountain Valley pipeline work continues in Franklin County near Cahas Mountain in March.

RICHMOND — A complaint that seeks to stop work on the Mountain Valley Pipeline is in a state of limbo.

Last week, Wild Virginia and other environmental groups filed what they called a formal complaint with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. They expected that the action would start an official process, and they asked the State Water Control Board to join in their request that FERC halt construction.

But after the board met Thursday in a closed session with an assistant attorney general, member James Lofton said it had been advised that the complaint has yet to be docketed with FERC.

The 24-page document — which cites hundreds of environmental violations and the loss of two key sets of federal permits — was filed with FERC on June 21.

“At this time, the filing is under review by the Commission who will determine how to address the issues raised,” spokeswoman Tamara Young-Allen said Thursday by email.

David Sligh, conservation director of Wild Virginia, had said the complaint would start a 20-day public comment period, during which the water board would have a chance to intervene before the commission acted.

Although FERC does have such a complaint process, Young-Allen said, it is “not bound to interpret such filings as they are characterized by the filers.” She declined to speculate on what might happen next.

Sligh said after Thursday’s meeting he couldn’t quarrel with the water board’s inaction because there was no formal case in which to intervene.

Wild Virginia’s complaint appeared on FERC’s online docket as an entry in the ongoing case — where countless other stop-work requests have been filed, with no action by the agency — instead of as a separate filing as Sligh had hoped.

Sligh said he plans to follow up with FERC. The water board will continue to monitor the situation, Lofton said.

Although FERC is the lead agency overseeing construction of the $5 billion, 303-mile pipeline, the water board shares some oversight. After the federal agency approved the project in October 2017, the board issued a water quality certification for the pipeline’s path through Southwest Virginia.

The board considered revoking that certification based on widespread runoff problems , but later decided it lacked authority.

More than a dozen pipeline opponents urged the board Thursday to join Wild Virginia’s request that FERC stop work on the project.

“Mountain Valley has been allowed, for the last year, to rip apart our mountains and tear up our creeks,” Tina Badger of Montgomery County said.

But an MVP spokeswoman said the company has been operating legally.

“The MVP project team has also followed the processes and requirements established by both state and federal agencies — and given the substantial information requested by the agencies, and, in turn, provided by MVP, we believe that the permits were adequately scrutinized, analyzed, and considered,” Natalie Cox said in an email.

A lawsuit filed by DEQ and the water board accuses Mountain Valley of violating erosion and sediment control measures more than 300 times. The board’s closed session was also held to discuss the lawsuit, but no mention of the pending case was made during the public session of the meeting.

Melanie Davenport, who directs DEQ’s division of water permitting, said no significant violations had been found since April, although about 10 complaints made by citizens this week are under review.

That prompted Lofton to ask about the “disconnect” between what the board is hearing from staff and from citizens, who have reported ongoing violations of measures meant to keep runoff from washing harmful sediment into nearby streams and onto adjacent private property.

Part of the problem is that many citizen complaints are not made until days or weeks later, when the problems are not as evident, Davenport said. Board members asked many of the speakers if they had reported their concerns directly to state regulators.

Some said they had called Mountain Valley Watch, a citizen group that is monitoring work and making reports to DEQ.

“We reject the board’s apparent assumption that the failures of DEQ’s inspectors fall on the shoulders of everyday people in the path of MVP,” said Roberta Bondurant, co-chair of the Protect Our Water Heritage Rights coalition.

If DEQ and contracted inspectors are in the field four to five days a week, as they say they are, “Then they should be seeing and reporting the same problems volunteers are observing — whether or not the volunteers report them at all,” Bondurant said.

Get business news delivered straight to your inbox with our email newsletter.

Laurence Hammack covers environmental issues, including the Mountain Valley Pipeline, and business and enterprise stories. He has been a reporter for The Roanoke Times for more than three decades.

Load comments