TALLMANSVILLE — The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection recently cited Atlantic Coast Pipeline developers for failing to manage construction-related erosion at a site in southern Upshur County.
The notice of violation — which ACP’s primary owner and operator Dominion Energy received from the W.Va. DEP in late July — is the only one the natural gas company has received to date during the building of the 600-mile-long pipeline in the Mountain State, according to the DEP’s online searchable database.
DEP inspector Tim Casto filed the violation June 28 after the environmental protection agency received several citizen complaints about excessive erosion, which resulted in sediment filling a Buckhannon River tributary in the Grassy Run area, the notice states. Upon arriving at a site along the Our Mills Road in Tallmansville, Casto noticed that temporary slope breakers — meant to prevent erosion —weren’t working properly in a variety of areas on the site.
Specifically, the slope breakers were installed at notably steep angles which resulted in “excessive erosion” and “failed to prevent sediment-laden water from leaving the site without going through an appropriate device,” Casto wrote. The conditions Casto found were in violation of the state and National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System general water pollution control permit.
Casto noted the runoff resulted in conditions in the Grassy Run tributary that violated state water quality standards. Problems with the erosion control devices “caused conditions not allowable in waters of the state … by allowing sediment (sand, silt or dirt) deposits on the bottom of UNT (unnamed tributary) Grassy Run,” he wrote in the report.
Dominion, which was given 20 days to remedy the problem, has since corrected it, company officials stated in an Aug. 2 letter from the company’s vice president of environmental services, Amanda Tornabene.
Tornabene’s letter says Dominion immediately halted construction in the area and took the following remedial actions: repairing and replacing erosion control devices, ordering the stoppage of tree felling and collecting the problematic sediment.
Dominion’s letter also says the company has increased the number of workers dedicated to maintaining environmental compliance in the area.
April Pierson-Keating of the Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance said Tuesday the group, which has been monitoring various construction sites around the county, was responsible for reporting conditions in the Grassy Run area to the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, which assisted in writing a complaint and submitting it to the DEP.
“A few of us have been out monitoring the crossing on the railroad grade which is out there past the Wolf Run Mining area, past Sago, and the main thing we were looking for was erosion and sediment problems, because on slopes this steep, when you remove the trees and vegetation, you’re going to have substantial runoff,” Keating said. “I’m not going to say it’s as bad as chemicals… but it can be as serious as chemical problems. When you get too much erosion in a stream, it can clog the bottom of a stream where the little macroinvertebrates live, and those are the bug larvae.”
Keating said the health of a stream or tributary can be assessed by the presence or absence of certain types of insects.
“If you find certain fly larvae in your stream, you know you have good larvae, and if those bugs are missing, you know there’s something in your water that those bugs don’t tolerate,” Keating said.
She said MLPA’s goal wasn’t complex: “Our objective was simple,” Keating explained. “It was just to see what they were doing to protect from all this dirt running off the hillside that would go into the stream and then into the river and affect our water quality and our ecosystem here.”
Keating said she thinks the insufficiency of the erosion prevention measures are related more to the topography of the area than anything specific Dominion has or hasn’t done.
“[The erosion occurred] not because of the company, but simply because you cannot do a project of this size and scope on terrain that is this steep and unstable,” she said.
In a prepared statement, Dominion spokeswoman Samantha Norris emphasized that the company prioritizes protecting the environment.
“We take environmental compliance very seriously,” the statement reads. “As soon as the inspection was complete, we immediately halted all work at the location. We then fully restored all of the erosion control devices at the location to ensure they are properly maintained and preventing sediment from leaving the right of way.”
W.Va. DEP communications director Jake Glance said Tuesday pipeline construction sites can be inspected at any time and no specific number of citizen complaints must be received to warrant an inspection.