The Roanoke Times/ December 23, 2022
The George Washington and Jefferson National Forests issued a revised environmental impact statement Friday that could remove a major obstacle to completion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline.
The U.S. Forest Service has proposed new construction guidelines that, if adhered to, would enable the 303-mile intrastate natural gas pipeline to traverse a 3.5-mile section of the Jefferson National Forest in Giles and Montgomery counties, the project’s final missing link.
The revised environmental impact statement considered two alternatives. One would have taken no action to revise the regulations, which could have dealt the controversial project a potential death blow. It would have required the project to remove sections of pipe currently stored above ground and to restore soil and vegetation altered by digging or timbering.
The second alternative, which the Forest Service has recommended, would “allow for the construction, operation, and maintenance” of the pipeline.
Legal challenges by environmental and citizens groups and environmental complicance penalties have delayed completion of the pipeline as project construction costs have grown to $6.6 billion.
A 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision in early 2022 revoked MVP’s permit to cross federal land by ruling that the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management failed to properly predict and prevent erosion and sedimentation caused by the massive infrastructure project.
The appeals court also ruled that the Forest Service failed to comply with its own planning rules and that it prematurely authorized the crossings of some streams in the national forest.
In response, the Forest Service was directed to draw up the “Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement” issued Friday. That 188-page document proposes amended guidelines which, if adopted and followed, the Forest Service said would minimize the short- and long-term environmental effects of building and maintaining the 42-inch diameter underground pipeline.
“These amended standards are required to make the construction, operation, and maintenance of the MVP through the JNF a conforming use under the Forest Plan,” the revised environmental impact statement said.
The amended standards would:
Use a a 600-foot-long bore for the pipeline to cross beneath the Appalachian Trail. “The long-term effects would be minor due to an approximate 300-foot buffer on either side of the trail and vegetative screening of the bore holes,” the Forest Service said.
Specify an underground bore method for the pipeline to cross four streams on Forest Service lands, instead of a dry-ditch open trench. “Effects on water resources would be minimized,” the Forest Service said.
Allow pipeline construction to remove vegetation and use heavy equipment within the 125-foot right-of-way, with “minor adverse effects of vegetation removal, erosion and sedimentation.”
Set guidelines for soil to be temporarily disturbed during construction, then restored and maintained afterward. “Long-term impacts would be associated with post-construction restoration and operation and would be minor in intensity,” the Forest Service said.
In all, the Forest Service’s amended environmental impact statement recommends 11 revisions of its plan to accommodate pipeline construction.
A 45-day comment period on the amended statement began Friday. After that, the Forest Service will publish a final version of the environmental impact statement.