VOF asks pipeline developers to present “conversion” applications at February meeting

The Virginia Outdoors Foundation has asked Mountain Valley Pipeline and Atlantic Coast Pipeline developers to present applications for conversion of open space land under the Open Space Land Act at its February 9, 2017 board meeting if the current alignments and project schedules remain unchanged.

Upon consideration, it was decided that the February meeting is the appropriate time to hear the applications because the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has already issued a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) and expects to issue a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) as early as December.

Trustees want to ensure that VOF has an opportunity to submit formal comments to FERC before a certificate of public convenience and necessity is issued. VOF believes this timing is important to protect the public’s interest in its easements through the FERC process.

VOF has been working with the pipeline developers for more than two years to determine what impacts may occur to VOF-protected lands. The foundation has emphasized its preference to avoid all protected lands. If avoidance is not possible, VOF has informed the developers that it considers the construction, operation and maintenance of large-scale gas pipelines a violation of existing easements. This would trigger a process in Virginia law known as “conversion of open space.” This process, spelled out in the Open Space Land Act (Virginia Code 10.1-1704), outlines requirements that are designed to protect the public’s interest in open-space lands when a violation is unavoidable.

As shown in the Draft EIS, the proposed route for MVP crosses two VOF easements in Montgomery County. Company officials are hopeful that they can still avoid all VOF easements; however, VOF is exercising what it feels is a prudent approach by asking MVP to move through the conversion process as a precaution.

The proposed ACP route crosses 10 VOF easements in Bath, Highland, Augusta and Nelson counties, and a variation known as the Spruce Creek Route crosses an 11th easement in Nelson County. VOF has asked ACP to initiate the conversion process for all 11 easements. VOF recently sent updated comments to FERC summarizing the impacts of these crossings.

ACP and MVP submitted draft applications to VOF’s Energy & Infrastructure Committee in May. Since then VOF has been gathering more input on the projects, as well as input from affected landowners and other interested parties. It has also asked the companies to refine their applications based on new information in the FERC process.

VOF will post the applications on its website as soon as they become available. Anyone who wishes to comment on this process may submit written comments addressed to the board through the Warrenton office, electronically to bcabibbo@vofonline.org, or in person during the public comment portion of the February 9 meeting—the location and time of which is yet to be determined.

Jason McGarvey is VOF's communications and outreach manager. He is based in the Richmond office.