Pipeline Could Travel Through the Monongahela
According to a map issued by Dominion Resources, a natural gas pipeline could travel through the middle of the Monongahela National Forest. The Monongahela, a vast expanse of land in the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia, is home to a wide array of natural resources. Kate Goodrich-Arling is the Staff Officer for Land, Planning, and Public and Legislative Affairs. “We’re blessed on the Monongahela with a tremendously diverse ecosystem,” she said, “with a very large number of threatened or endangered species and what we call sensitive species.”
According to Goodrich-Arling, the forest service first heard about Dominion’s Southeast Reliability Project through the media. Since then, they have had two meetings with Dominion representatives to learn more about this proposed 450-mile pipeline that would transport natural gas from West Virginia to North Carolina. The most recent meeting took place at the beginning of July.
“We talked with the company about what some of the management prescriptions under our forest plan are that they would be crossing if they crossed this country, and what those management prescriptions meant,” Goodrich-Arling said. “They asked us to start gathering resource information: wildlife information, soils information, aquatics, all of those different resources. They use a contractor, a company called Natural Resources Group (NRG), who actually does their environmental analysis for them. So we will be supplying those pieces of information to NRG, not directly to Dominion.”
The forest plan is a living document that provides guidance on how to approach different parts of the land. Goodrich-Arling compared the plan to a patchwork quilt, with collections of different management prescriptions scattered across the wilderness. “We have seen the maps that show a very wide swath across the belt of the Monongahela as being the general area that Dominion is initially looking at. This area crosses several management prescriptions, and those management prescriptions were developed 25 years ago for the most part. They were developed with a tremendous amount of public involvement, and generally continued in the same management pattern in our current land management plan.”
One of those areas is managed primarily for high elevation red spruce. “At one point in time, there was a much larger red spruce component to the forests around here, but red spruce was cut pretty heavily,” Goodrich-Arling said. “It’s a high elevation species here, and the ridges in the Monongahela, like all of the Appalachian area here, run primarily northeast to southwest. So the ridge tops, which is the primary habitat for red spruce, also go in a sort of northeast southwest pattern with valleys in between them. So any type of pipeline that’s proposed across basically east to west or west to east goes through high elevation red spruce.
“We care about that because we’re trying to recreate or reconnect isolated patches of red spruce. When you have any kind of a project that’s proposed to create an opening that’s going go over these ridges somehow, it has the potential to hit quite a few of these populations.”
The forest service plans to submit resource information to NRG within the next several weeks. At the same time, they’re cautious about giving piecemeal information, because the pipeline could change its route to avoid one resource, only to find itself in the middle of another. “There’s historic sites potentially along this route,” Goodrich-Arling said. “There’s a mixture of recreational opportunities, trails, remote camping opportunities, so it’s not just wildlife. It’s the whole range of all of those resources.
“And water of course. We have the headwaters of seven major river systems on the Monongahela. Something like 90% of the reproducing trout waters in the state of West Virginia are on the Monongahela, and much of the clean drinking water downstream comes off national forest.”
Goodrich-Arling explained that all national forests east of the Mississippi were initially developed to protect the headwaters of navigable rivers. Since then, the purpose of the land has continued to grow. “The classic litany is wood, water, wildlife, recreation, grazing, and minerals,” she said. “And the idea is to have a long-term sustainable forest that can continue into the future, providing the resources that it currently does.”