The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality has extended a public comment period on a contentious natural gas pipeline after the agency’s website went dark last week.
After receiving reports of “unauthorized activity” on the website, officials decided to take it down May 22 as a precaution, spokeswoman Ann Regn said.
The site remained offline late Friday afternoon, except for a page that explained the closure and provided some basic contact information. No data has been lost or compromised, Regn said.
However, the mishap came in the midst of a public comment period for the Mountain Valley Pipeline. The last day for written comments was Thursday, but DEQ decided to extend the deadline one day for every day the website was down.
That means comments will be allowed at least through June 15 on a limited scope: whether a review process by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is adequate to protect streams and rivers crossed by the 303-mile pipeline through Southwest Virginia.
The public input period will also allow comments on the same question for the similar Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which will cross central Virginia.
At meetings last December, the State Water Control Board granted water quality certifications for both projects, finding a “reasonable assurance” that building pipelines through the bottoms of streams and rivers would not contaminate the waterways.
But the board limited its review to so-called upland areas, leaving the Army Corps to examine individual streams and wetlands with a process that critics say is overly broad and fails to take into account factors unique to each crossing.
After repeated public complaints, the board decided to solicit additional information.
Written comments should relate to technical details of stream crossing reviews, and how state and federal regulations address the issues of water quality, DEQ said in a notice of the public comment period.
Since the two buried pipelines were proposed nearly four years ago, opponents have said that digging trenches for them across steep mountain slopes and through pristine streams will dislodge sediment that will then be washed downstream, leading to contamination of private wells and public water supplies.
It is unclear what — if any — action will be taken by the panel of citizens appointed by the governor once the public comment period is over.
Comments may be mailed to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, P.O. Box 1105, Richmond, VA 23218, or submitted by email to NWP12InfoOnMVP@deq.virginia.gov.