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Hearings upcoming

This photo from early June shows an area along the route of the Mountain Valley Pipeline near U.S. 19 in Braxton County that was damaged by flooding. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is holding West Virginia and Virginia public hearings Monday and Nov. 4 for a key permit application for the project.

If you have thoughts on a key permit Mountain Valley Pipeline’s developers are seeking that would allow them to discharge dredged material into streams and wetlands, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wants to hear from you.

The Corps will hold a public hearing Monday evening to collect West Virginia input on an application from Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC, the joint venture that owns the pipeline, for a permit that would allow for discharging dredged and fill material into some waterbodies.

The hearing will be held virtually from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday on the key permit application for the pipeline slated to transport natural gas 303 miles from Wetzel County to Southern Virginia.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has defined fill material as including rock, soil, clay, construction debris and materials used to create any structure in waters of the United States, a broad term that includes all interstate waters or waters that could be used by interstate travelers.

Canonsburg, Pennsylvania-based Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC proposed a 125-foot-wide temporary right-of-way to construct the pipeline and a 50-feet-wide permanent right-of-way to maintain and operate the pipeline once in service. The project would result in the permanent discharge of dredged and fill material into more than 1,100 linear feet of streams in West Virginia.

The Environmental Protection Agency recommended in May that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers not issue the permit for the Mountain Valley Pipeline until it makes less environmentally damaging changes to the project.

The agency questioned in a May 27 letter to the Corps whether pipeline developers had done enough to avoid adverse water-crossing effects.

“[The] EPA is concerned that the applicant has not yet demonstrated that the discharges from the project, as proposed, will not cause or contribute to water quality standards exceedances or significant degradation of receiving waters,” agency wetlands branch chief Jeffrey Lapp wrote to Corps Huntington District regulatory branch chief Michael Hatten in the letter.

The May 27 letter was released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the Lewisburg-based environmental law firm Appalachian Mountain Advocates.

Huntington District spokesman Chuck Minsker said in July the Corps will take the EPA’s comments into consideration as it evaluates all Clean Water Act-related concerns with the project.

The Corps is reviewing the application under the authority of Section 10 of the federal Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899, and Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.

There is no deadline for a ruling on a Section 404 permit for the pipeline.

The West Virginia Rivers Coalition has argued that Corps issuance of the permit would allow for severely degraded scenic areas, such as the Greenbrier, Gauley and Elk rivers, degrade water quality and permanently alter the soils and hydrology of wetlands which play a key role in flood mitigation.

The project has already had adverse water quality impacts.

The state Department of Environmental Protection proposed a consent order earlier this year requiring Mountain Valley to pay a $303,000 fine for violating permits by failing to control erosion and sediment-laden water.

That penalty followed a $266,000 fine from the same regulators in 2019 for similar erosion and water contamination issues. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality fined Mountain Valley $2.15 million that same year for water quality violations.

The pipeline is projected to provide up to 2 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale formations to markets in the mid-Atlantic and Southeastern regions of the U.S.

“That would be the lifeblood of continuing to attract risk capital in West Virginia,” lawyer Philip Reale said on the Gas & Oil Association of West Virginia’s behalf of the pipeline’s expected production to a panel of West Virginia state lawmakers at their Joint Natural Gas Development Committee meeting during the Legislature’s interim session last month.

The now-$6.2 billion project originally was scheduled for completion by the end of 2018 at a cost of just $3.5 billion. The project’s targeted summer 2022 in-service date is based on receiving all water crossing approvals and the lifting of a remaining exclusion zone around the Jefferson National Forest by the end of 2021.

Environmentalists have helped stall the project through legal challenges, including one that prompted Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC to abandon a blanket water permit issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and seek individual water permits.

Also pending are reviews of Mountain Valley Pipeline’s applications to West Virginia and Virginia state environmental regulators for water quality certification under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act. That section prohibits a federal agency from issuing permits for water discharges unless states where the discharges would originate approve or waive certification.

The hearing will be held via WebEx and can be accessed at or by dialing 888-251-2949 or 215-861-0694 (access code: 8624273#).

The Corps said it is “strongly encouraging” those who wish to provide oral comments to declare their intent to speak by emailing with the statement “RSVP to Speak at West Virginia Public Hearing” and include their full name, email address, and contact phone number with area code.

The Corps is limiting oral statements to two minutes.

The Corps is also holding a Virginia public hearing on the same application from 6 to 8 p.m. Nov. 4 at or by dialing 888-251-2949 or 215-861-0694 (access code: 3683150#).

All written comments should be submitted electronically by email at by midnight on Nov. 19. Mailed comments must be postmarked no later than Nov. 19 and sent to United States Army Corps of Engineers, Huntington District, ATTN: CELRH-RD-E, Public Notice: LRH-2015-00592-GBR, LRP-2015-798, NAO-2015-0898, 502 Eighth Street, Huntington, West Virginia 25701-2070.

Mike Tony covers energy and the environment. He can be reached at 304-348-1236 or Follow @Mike__Tony on Twitter.

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