Despite avid opposition from some residents along the route of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline, Dominion executives on Thursday outlined important milestones and progress made on the project.
"I am pleased to say the project continues to move forward on all fronts," Diane Leopold, president and CEO of Dominion Energy, said of the $5 billion, 600-mile natural gas pipeline that would cross portions of West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina.
During a teleconference Thursday morning, Leopold said to date, Dominion has completed production on more than 65 percent of the steel pipe that will be used for the project, and the company expects to complete pipe production later this year.
She added that Dominion has procured almost 85 percent of the land, materials and services it needs to build the pipeline.
Additionally, Dominion has completed more than 98 percent of land surveys, which has resulted in more than 300 route adjustments to avoid environmentally and otherwise sensitive areas. Dominion also has signed mutual easement agreements with 60 percent of landowners along the route.
"We're very pleased with the progress we've made," Leopold said. "We expect that progress to accelerate as we get closer to construction."
Leopold cited a favorable draft environmental impact statement, which was released by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in December 2016, and a favorable preliminary approval from the U.S. Forest Service for drilling underneath the Blue Ridge Parkway and Appalachian Trail as important milestones for Dominion.
Leopold also briefly talked about support for the project.
"Opponents may receive much of the attention," Leopold said. "It is their right to speak out. But it is clear that the majority believes this project should and must be built."
Leopold cited bipartisan support in all three states the pipeline would cross, as well as support from labor unions and local governments, as evidence for her statement.
In Nelson County, the board of supervisors voted in 2014, shortly after the project was proposed, to formally oppose the pipeline. Recently, though, the majority of supervisors voted against submitting a letter to FERC that outlined a number of topics opponents in Nelson County believe the draft environmental impact statement did not address.
The proposed route crosses 27 miles in Nelson County.
In addition to federal approval from FERC, which is expected to come in the fall following the release of a final environmental impact statement in June, Dominion must receive permits from the U.S. Forest Service and Army Corps of Engineers, as well as a few state permits, for the pipeline.
Dominion's progress update came on the same day a network of opponents voiced specific concerns about "mountaintop removal" they claim would be associated with construction of the pipeline.
The groups argued during a separate teleconference Thursday that mountaintops along the route would be reduced by 10 to 20 feet, with some slopes being cut by 60 feet.
Those figures are based on calculations made using the National Elevation Dataset from the U.S. Geological Survey and the idea that Dominion would need to clear 125-foot rights of way for construction.
Dominion Spokesman Aaron Ruby called those figures a "gross exaggeration" of what actually will take place during construction.
According to Leslie Hartz, Dominion's vice president for pipeline construction, Dominion will not clear 125-foot rights of way on most mountaintops. Ruby said the company only will need to clear temporary work spaces on a relatively small number of ridge tops to lay the pipe before restoring the terrain.
Despite Hartz's comments, opponents remain unconvinced there won't be significant damage to mountains along the route.
"I'm absolutely still worried," said Joyce Burton, a Friends of Nelson member and longtime resident of Nelson, during the teleconference. "Any material that is unconsolidated will increase the risk of landslides."
Ben Luckett, an attorney with Appalachian Mountain Advocates, said Hartz's statements don't "allay our concerns at all," adding they cannot be assured of Dominion's intentions when Dominion is allowed by FERC to clear 125 feet for a right of way.
Hartz also addressed concerns from opponents about excess loads of soil removed for work spaces and placement of the pipe. Opponents are worried soil and rock could end up in nearby water bodies.
Hartz said contours of slopes will be restored to their original state, and excess material displaced by the volume of the pipe itself will be used for habitats and access restrictions along those slopes.
Opponents also are concerned about a lack of site-specific information for steep slopes.
Citing information from a Blackburn Consulting Services study commissioned by Friends of Nelson, which looked at soil types at some sites along the route in Nelson, Burton said construction could cause destabilization and increase the potential for landslides.
According to Ruby, Dominion has provided site-specific details for 10 slopes to the U.S. Forest Service, but Dominion was not required to file construction details pertaining to all slopes along the route as part of the draft environmental impact statement.
According to Dominion, site-specific plans will be developed for about 25 locations before construction takes place.
Additionally, Dominion plans to implement a "Best in Class Steep Slopes Program" for all steep slopes along the route, defined as those with a slope of 30 percent or greater. The program has been "thoroughly evaluated" by FERC, according to Ruby.
The hazard management process that is part of the program includes hazard identification; characterization, assessment and threat classification; mitigation; and monitoring.
During the teleconference, Hartz said Dominion and its lead construction contractor have more than 200 years of experience building pipelines in mountainous terrains, and Dominion has built more than 400 miles of pipelines through the mountains of West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
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