BUCKHANNON — A community liaison for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline said Thursday Upshur County will soon see a “huge influx” of people streaming into the area to help construct the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
Mike Cozad told the Upshur County Commission at its weekly meeting that county motels, hotels, restaurants and stores will be filled with out-of-town workers who are on their way to help build and inspect the 600-mile-long, 42-inch-wide natural gas pipeline that originates in Harrison County, West Virginia and continues through Virginia before ultimately ending in Robeson County, North Carolina.
Cozad said on Friday, May 11, ACP — a coalition of four energy companies, Dominion Energy, Southern Company Gas, Duke Energy and Piedmont Natural Gas — received a Notice to Proceed from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC.
“We had an important event last Friday,” Cozad said. “We got our Notice to Proceed from FERC, so we’ve got full-blown authority to go ahead and start full construction in West Virginia on those areas where we’ve dropped trees and we’ve got clearance to work there.”
“In the next few weeks, you should see a huge influx of folks here to start getting that work under way, so hotels will be filled, restaurants will be filled, and all the things that go with that, and they’ll all be staged and working out of the Brushy Fork area,” Cozad, who has been stopping by both city council and county meetings to provide updates, told the commission.
Cozad also said the 40-acre contractor yard on Brushy Fork Road will be “fully functional” by Memorial Day. Dominion Energy, the primary operator of the pipeline, and its contractors will be housing equipment and materials in the contractor yard; in addition, workers will meet at that location prior to traveling to work sites each morning.
Commission president Sam Nolte asked when construction workers would actually begin breaking ground.
Cozad said that might not happen until July.
“Step one will be, in a couple of weeks, we’ll start clearing and getting the access roads upgraded where we can get into the right-of-way to do the clearing, and it’ll be awhile before we actually get graders out there and dozers out there and start grading the actual right-of-way and being ready to trench it and stuff like that, so optimistically six weeks, maybe eight weeks,” he replied. “You’re probably looking at a July time frame for that, just so you can look at everything that’s really going on.”
Cozad said he’d be willing to take the media and local government officials out to the yard for an official tour this summer.
The community liaison also said Dominion/ACP has plans to patch up the parts of Brushy Fork Road that have been damaged by heavy travel.
“We’re fully aware of the degradation that’s taking place on Brushy Fork Road,” Cozad said. “We’re working with the DOH to get a permit to repair and patch a lot of that area that’s been degraded and we’ll keep on top of it. There’s contracts out to local paving companies, we’re well aware of the impact we’re having on the road and we’re going to take the necessary steps to keep it up.”
Nolte also asked about the timing of ACP/Dominion’s plans to build a third lane on the Brushy Fork Road.
“My understanding is the first step right now is to move a lot of the utilities in preparation for that,” Cozad answered. “I understand there are water lines that need to be moved, there are power poles that need to be moved. My understanding is a lot of that’s going to take place this summer. I don’t know if it’s going to be complete this summer.”
Cozad pledged to return to the commission with more details on the planned third-lane addition on Brushy Fork Road at a later date.
He also addressed a question about a ruling issued Tuesday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit stating that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service failed to set clear limits regarding the impact on threatened or endangered species in Virginia.
“There’s a federal judge in Virginia that issued a decree, he found fault with some of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife clearances that we got as part of getting our FERC permit,” Cozad said. “He was apparently not satisfied with the specificity of what Fish and Wildlife had put into the system, so he basically declared that part of it invalid, invalidated it and it needs to be updated.”
But Cozad said construction of the ACP won’t be delayed as a result of the ruling.
“FERC issued a statement last night saying there would be no downtime as a result of that decision,” he said.
In a written statement, Dominion Energy communications specialist Samantha Norris told The Record Delta Thursday that the company was trying to hammer out a solution, and that a relatively small area of the project is affected.
“We are continuing to analyze the order and the effects it will have on the project,” Norris wrote. “We can say that the impact of the U.S. Fourth Circuit of Appeals ruling is on a small portion of the 600-mile route and there will be no impact in North Carolina. Through our project planning, we purposefully avoided areas of endangered species which is why the impact of this ruling is relatively limited.”
Norris said ACP/Dominion is working in conjunction with federal and state agencies and will next consult the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, an agency they expect to “revise the Incidental Take Statement to provide limits that are more specific.”
Norris said construction will continue as planned.
“While we do not have a specific date of when the revised Incidental Take Statement will be prepared, ACP has conducted extensive survey work for all six species over the past four years and there is robust record on which to resolve this matter in an expedited manner,” Norris’ statement continues. “We will continue to move forward with construction as scheduled.”
The Endangered Species Act was originally written to ban the “take” of listed species through destruction of habitat or “direct” harm, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s website. But in 1982, Congress passed amendments to the act that gave the USFWS to issue permits for the “incidental take” of threatened and endangered wildlife species. “Thus, permit holder can proceed with an activity that is legal is all other respects, but that results in the incidental taking of a listed species,” the website states.
Norris’ statement also says ACP made more than 300 route adjustments to avoid environmentally sensitive areas, such as wetlands.
In other commission news, the commission decided to certify the state and national results of the May 8 primary election at its next meeting, May 24, due to one county not having a quorum in place to canvass the results.
However, the commission did vote to approve the certification of the results of municipal and county election results.