Deq hearings to focus on water quality impacts of mountain valley pipeline business roanoke.com gas 87 89 93

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“Many citizens in this region rely heavily on the pristine, fresh mountain spring water for drinking water,” Edwards wrote. “Contamination of well water would be an extreme threat to health and safety and cause long term damage to the environment.”

This week, DEQ will hold two public hearings to solicit comment about draft conditions the agency might recommend if the State Water Control Board grants Mountain Valley Pipeline the Clean Water Act 401 water quality certification it needs to proceed with construction.

The first hearing is scheduled for 6 to 10 p.m. Tuesday at Radford University. DEQ said it chose Radford even though the city is not on a pipeline route because the university offered a venue with sufficient seating capacity. The Bondurant Auditorium in Preston Hall seats 1,500. The second public hearing will be held from 6 to 10 p.m. Wednesday in Chatham at the Chatham High School auditorium, which seats 500.

An anti-pipeline group called “Walking the Line” plans to hold peaceful protests outside both hearings, alternating silence with singing. It hopes large crowds will turn out to demonstrate to DEQ the breadth and depth of worries about water quality.

Spoken comments offered during these two meetings will not be recorded by DEQ, so Habeeb and others recommend that people who want to ensure their comments are accepted by DEQ should either speak at a public hearing or submit written comments.

Pipeline opponents have hoped DEQ would determine that the Mountain Valley project is destined to exceed water quality standards, a conclusion they believed might lead the agency to recommend against granting certification. In New York, the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation has twice denied water quality certification to interstate natural gas pipeline projects; those decisions have been appealed by the pipeline companies.

Yet DEQ’s brochure about the upcoming public hearings includes a statement that seems to suggest the agency is unlikely to advocate for denying certification: “DEQ’s preliminary decision is to recommend issuance of a Section 401 Certification with conditions.”

Proposed conditions would limit removal of streamside vegetation in areas not directly associated with construction activities, require a vegetation buffer between surface waters and vehicle fueling and storage of hazardous materials, develop plans for spill prevention control and water quality monitoring and require dye tracing where indicated to identify the direction of flow of aquifers in karst landscapes characterized by sinkholes, caves and sinking streams.

DEQ is working separately on plans to control erosion and sediment for the Mountain Valley project, which would cross hundreds of water bodies, climb and descend steep slopes and travel through thousands of acres of soils classified as having the potential for severe erosion. The agency said this week’s hearings are not intended to gather comments about erosion and sediment controls.

The agency says its erosion and sediment plans and stormwater management review “will address every foot of land disturbance related to pipeline construction, including access roads and construction lay-down areas” for both the Mountain Valley Pipeline and the separate but similar Atlantic Coast Pipeline. DEQ hired a consultant to help with these reviews and anticipates related costs will total about $2.2 million, an expense the pipeline companies ultimately will cover.

As proposed, the $3.5 billion Mountain Valley Pipeline would travel about 303 miles from Wetzel County, West Virginia, to terminate at the Transco pipeline in Pittsylvania County. Its 106-mile path through Virginia would burrow through Giles, Craig, Montgomery, Roanoke and Franklin counties.

As an interstate pipeline, it needs approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. On June 23, FERC released a final environmental impact statement for the project. Mountain Valley and FERC have reported that the pipeline would not have significant long-term effects on surface waters, groundwater or wetlands.

DEQ came under fire in May after the department reported it had miscommunicated when advising that it would scrutinize each wetlands and stream crossing by the two pipelines. The agency clarified that it will rely on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ permitting process to examine stream and wetlands crossings. DEQ said it would focus instead on potential threats to water quality from other aspects of pipeline construction and operation.

Both Edwards and Rasoul cited a recommendation last year from the Virginia Department of Health for a survey examining areas within 1,000 feet of the pipeline to identify people and properties that use local and regional groundwater and surface water for recreation or human consumption. Dwayne Roadcap, a division director for the department, observed in December that “protecting water quality for these property owners is a paramount concern.”

An Aug. 1 letter to Paylor from Roanoke County’s board of supervisors also referenced the survey recommended by the Department of Health. The board asked DEQ to extend the public comment period by 45 days to allow time to complete that survey.

FERC’s final environmental impact statement for the Mountain Valley project included a condition that the company identify the location of all water wells, springs and other drinking water sources within 150 feet of construction work areas and above-ground facilities. In karst landscapes, FERC recommended the distance for identifying water sources increase to 500 feet.

On July 20, the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation observed that the 500-foot criteria was arbitrary because “unanticipated releases” in karst landscapes “have the potential to travel more than 500 feet and impact wells, cave streams and springs.”