Forest conservation grants totaling nearly $4 million have been awarded as part of an effort to offset environmental damage to Southwest Virginia caused by the Mountain Valley Pipeline.
The Virginia Outdoors Foundation announced the six grants Monday to restore and protect woodlands in Bland, Botetourt, Charlotte, Roanoke and Rockbridge counties.
It was the latest disbursement from a fund established last year, when Mountain Valley agreed to pay a total of $27.5 million to compensate for the forest fragmentation and water pollution that was expected from clearing land and digging trenches for the massive buried pipe.
Virginia then passed the company’s payments on to four conservation groups.
The largest share, $15 million, went to the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, which recently awarded $3.9 million in its second round of grants.
Included in the grants are:
- $700,000 to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy for the purchase of 237 acres of high-quality forest in the viewshed of McAfee Knob, one of the most photographed vistas on the Appalachian Trail. The land ultimately will be transferred to the National Park Service, which helps administer the trail.
- $620,054 to Roanoke County to add 304 acres to the Read Mountain Preserve. The money will be used in part to purchase land that includes Buzzards Rock, the preserve’s main attraction, which previously has been accessible only by permission from the landowner. Other improvements to the five miles of hiking trails are planned.
- $452,500 to the state Department of Conservation and Recreation to acquire 100 acres adjacent to the Poor Mountain Natural Area Preserve. The property supports mature pine-oak heath forests and the rare pirate bush, and will contribute to the scenic views from Salem and Roanoke.
- $155,000 to the outdoors foundation for the purchase of two parcels, totaling 108 acres, to be added to the House Mountain Reserve outside Lexington. Deed restrictions held by the state Department of Game and Inland Fisheries will codify existing polices of the foundation, the land’s primary owner, that make the preserve available for passive public recreation and permanently protect its forests.
The remaining $2 million went to expand the Chestnut Ridge forest in Bland County and for the purchase of land in Charlotte County that will be used to create a new state forest.
In December, seven projects were awarded $3.6 million in the first round of grants from the mitigation package. A third round of funding is expected next year from the outdoors foundation.
The grants are meant to compensate for tree-clearing and stump grubbing by pipeline developers. That phase of construction is about 70% complete in Virginia, according to the outdoors foundation.
Three other groups — the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities, the Virginia Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts and the Virginia Environmental Endowment — also received funds from Mountain Valley. It was not clear Monday how that money had been spent.
When Mountain Valley agreed to the mitigation package last year, the company said it would “fully offset project-related impacts and affirms the shared interests of MVP and Virginia in protecting public resources.”
However, the environmental impact to the six Virginia counties crossed by the 303-mile interstate pipeline — Giles, Craig, Montgomery, Roanoke, Franklin and Pittsylvania — has been greater than expected when the project was planned.
Regulations meant to control erosion and sediment were violated more than 300 times, according to a lawsuit filed by the Virginia Department of Environmental Protection and the State Water Control Board. Two sets of federal permits were suspended after environmental groups filed legal challenges.
Officials with the state attorney general’s office have said the mitigation agreement will not prevent the state from recovering additional damages for environmental harm, such as through the lawsuit currently pending in Henrico County Circuit Court.