The Virginia Outdoors Foundation (VOF) has notified the developers of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), as well as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), that a proposed maintenance road for the pipeline on a VOF easement in Roanoke County would be inconsistent with the terms of the easement, and would therefore need to seek conversion under state law if the project is approved by FERC.
VOF expressed its position in a March 28 letter to FERC, and also asked FERC to postpone publication of the final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) so that it could have more time to work with MVP on the matter. FERC announced a revised schedule for the EIS process on March 31. The final Environmental Impact Statement is now slated to be available on June 23, and the 90-day federal authorization decision deadline is set for September 21.
VOF learned early in the process that MVP would need to upgrade an existing forest road for construction on the Roanoke County easement, but was initially told the need would be temporary and therefore not in violation of the easement. Plans changed in late 2016, however, and VOF learned that the request would now be for a permanent access road. Because the easement only permits new roads that serve the property, constructing or significantly improving a forest road to an industrial–scale road for offsite purposes would constitute an inconsistent use and therefore be subject to state law that requires the conservation values and public interest to remain protected through a process known as “conversion,” which is described in section 1704 of the Virginia Open Space Land Act.
Under conversion, the easement would not be extinguished. Rather, MVP would place a right-of-way over the easement allowing the company to use the road. Right-of-way siting for maintenance roads and the pipeline itself are under the authority of FERC. As part of the conversion application process, MVP would need to propose substitute land that has greater conservation value than what is being affected by the incursion.
The Mountain Valley Pipeline itself would not cross the easement. MVP initially proposed to cross two VOF easements with the 42-inch pipeline, but after working with the developer and FERC the route was changed to avoid these open-space easements.
“We have been pleased with MVP‘s efforts to avoid easements, and we are confident that we can work through this latest issue to ensure that the public’s interest is protected to the greatest degree possible,” says Martha Little, VOF’s deputy director of stewardship.