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After the rain

Pictured is an area along the route of the Mountain Valley Pipeline near U.S. 19 in Braxton County damaged by flooding over the weekend. Opponents of the pipeline say it exacerbates flooding in the area.

Long beleaguered by erosion concerns, the Mountain Valley Pipeline is facing complaints that it exacerbated adverse effects from flooding that hit central West Virginia this weekend.

Environmental control devices installed along the route were overwhelmed by a large amount of rain in a short period of time, said Natalie Cox, spokeswoman for Equitrans Midstream Corp., the Canonsburg, Pennsylvania-based developer of the pipeline.

Cox noted that rainfall averaged 4 to 6 inches across all areas of the route from Monday through Sunday.

Mountain Valley Pipeline reported to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection’s state spill line that it lost timber mats because of high water and crossed a creek in Braxton County. It lists Clover Fork as the affected stream.

Monroe County resident and pipeline opponent Maury Johnson notified the DEP of reports he received of sediment control issues in Lewis, Braxton and Webster counties, sending state environmental regulators photos of damage near U.S. 19, in Braxton County.

“They’re trying to build across these steep, slip-prone soils that we have,” Johnson said.

A Lewis County landowner reported to environmental regulators that extreme flash-flooding exceeded 6 feet near Second Big Run, destroying the pipeline’s silt barriers and fencing, washing out the base of timber mats and suggesting that the area is unstable because of deforestation and saturated soil increasing the risk for mass flooding in the valley.

Johnson contended that erosion issues with the pipeline will persist until the pipeline is removed from steep slopes and trees are reestablished on them.

Cox said the pipeline has paused construction to focus on environmental compliance and right-of-way stabilization. Each specific location along the route will resume full activities as permitted, once erosion and sediment control measures are evaluated and found to be meeting or exceeding compliance requirements, she added.

Fines and concerns over lack of erosion controls have dogged the Mountain Valley Pipeline project.

An analysis that the anti-pipeline group Mountain Valley Watch submitted to federal regulators in February argued that an increased risk of landslides along the project route in Lewis County remains, despite efforts to stabilize slide areas.

The filing cites topographic and rainfall studies, past filings with federal regulators and aerial photographs of the pipeline to make a case that highly erodible soils, above average annual precipitation rates and steep mountain slopes have produced an ideal situation for landslides to occur.

But Cox said the pipeline was excavated, inspected and replaced in the Lewis County area in question last year, with the hillside further reinforced using a mechanically engineered geotechnical reinforcement method to prevent any future soil movement.

“The best method of environmental protection is to complete project construction and full restoration of the [right-of-way],” Cox wrote in an email Monday.

Johnson said he couldn’t disagree more, arguing that the pipeline’s erosion issues will never end.

“For years, we have been sounding the alarm and warning state and federal officials about the dangers and horrible consequences from building on these very steep, slip-prone soils,” Johnson said. “[A]pparently, no one in charge who is supposed to protect people or property care.”

The Mountain Valley Pipeline has faced several fines for erosion and sedimentation problems. The DEP recently proposed a consent order that would require Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC to pay $303,000 for violating permits by failing to control erosion and sediment-laden water.

The state also fined Mountain Valley $266,000 in 2019 for similar erosion and water contamination issues, and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality fined Mountain Valley $2.15 million that same year for water quality violations.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will decide by July 2 whether to grant or deny additional time to West Virginia and Virginia environmental regulators to consider water permit requests from the joint venture that owns the pipeline, according to Corps Huntington District spokesman Brian Maka.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline is designed to be a 303-mile natural gas system traveling from Northwestern West Virginia to Southern Virginia, crossing Wetzel, Harrison, Doddridge, Lewis, Braxton, Webster, Nicholas, Greenbrier, Fayette, Summers and Monroe counties in the Mountain State.

Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC, the joint venture that owns the unfinished pipeline, still has applications pending with West Virginia and Virginia environmental regulators for about 300 water crossings while it seeks approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to tunnel under 120 other waterbodies.

The West Virginia DEP will hold a virtual public hearing June 22 on whether it should approve a water permit for the project.

“I’m sick of the damage,” Johnson said.

Reach Mike Tony at mtony@hdmediallc.com, 304-348-1236 or follow @Mike__Tony on Twitter.

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