After coming to a brief halt, construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline is resuming piecemeal along its approximately 100-mile route through the New River and Roanoke valleys.
The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, which said the temporary suspension began June 29 after Mountain Valley failed to control runoff from work sites, identified two segments this week where improvements by the company were sufficient for work to restart.
One area is in the Jefferson National Forest, and the other is between Mount Tabor and Catawba roads in Montgomery County.
Mountain Valley’s efforts to correct erosion and sediment control measures along a third segment, where the natural gas pipeline will pass under the Blue Ridge Parkway in Roanoke County, were deemed deficient. Work cannot resume there yet, DEQ said in a summary posted to its website.
Environmental regulators plan to inspect other areas in the coming days and provide online updates as more clearances are granted. DEQ spokesman Greg Bilyeu could not say Friday how many sites will be reviewed.
“It’s difficult to identify segments to be cleared ahead of time,” Bilyeu wrote in an email. “MVP won’t know exactly where and when various crews will complete work and be ready for inspection.”
The suspension announced last week was for all of the pipeline’s path through Southwest Virginia.
“As MVP receives DEQ approvals on a site/segment, work on that segment can resume,” Bilyeu wrote.
Critics said the brevity of the suspension, and the scarcity of details provided by DEQ, call into question the agency’s commitment to addressing problems and concerns that reached a critical mass as work on the interstate pipeline ramped up in May and June.
“We believe that this was all a public relations stunt,” said Rick Shingles of Giles County, a volunteer for Mountain Valley Watch, a citizens group that has been monitoring pipeline work and making reports to DEQ.
“This was not a serious cessation of work until they dealt with the serious problems that we were reporting.”
Natalie Cox, a spokeswoman for Pittsburgh-based Mountain Valley, said in an email Friday that DEQ will “take as much time as needed to continue their review and release process and we are pleased with their progress to-date.”
Rather than sending employees home during the suspension, she said, the company directed them to refocus their efforts on improving sediment and erosion control devices that DEQ said failed to meet the state’s standards.
“The MVP project team continues to take its environmental stewardship responsibilities very seriously and appreciates the guidance and oversight by the VDEQ,” Cox wrote.
Completion of the pipeline is still on track for late 2018, Cox said.
In the winter, crews began cutting trees along a 125-foot-wide construction right of way for the buried pipeline. Land clearing that followed, along with the arrival of spring rains, brought a torrent of complaints from landowners on the pipeline’s route.
Steep slopes stripped of vegetation channeled muddy water downhill, where sediment made its way into streams, creeks, meadows and hayfields, the landowners said.
Eighty-one complaints have been logged through the first week of July, according to a summary on DEQ’s website. Of those, 73 have been closed. The most common reasons listed for closing a complaint were that it was not substantiated, it did not fall under DEQ’s purview, or the problems with runoff had been corrected by Mountain Valley.
Eight cases remain under review. So far, DEQ has not issued any notices of violations, which are usually the first step of a formal process that could lead to fines and other enforcement actions.
State environmental regulators in West Virginia, where the pipeline will originate and run for about 200 miles before entering Virginia in Giles County, have issued at least four notices of violations to Mountain Valley in the past two months.
While opponents continue to press regulatory agencies for more vigilant monitoring of work on a 42-inch diameter pipeline that they say will contaminate private wells and public water supplies, they are also seeking relief from the courts.
After a coalition of conservation groups challenged a federal permit for stream and river crossings in West Virginia, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay June 21 that put a hold on that phase of construction.
The appellate court is also considering several other cases that could affect work in Southwest Virginia.