Public Comment Opens This Week for Pipeline Survey of Monongahela National Forest

The public comment period for Dominion Resources’ application to survey Monongahela National Forest for its natural gas pipeline opens this week and will remain open for citizen input for approximately one month.

The special use permit application was submitted by Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC to survey 17 miles of the forest in Randolph and Pocahontas counties, said Kate Goodrich-Arling, staff officer for land, planning, and public and legislative affairs for the Forest Service in Elkins.

The public comment period for the National Forest is separate from the public comment now open through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which is the agency that has the final say in approving or denying the permit for the pipeline. If approved, the 42-inch natural gas pipeline would span 550 miles from West Virginia to North Carolina.

Established in 1920, Monongahela National Forest includes eight species of birds, bats, salamanders, and plants that are federally registered as threatened or endangered.

Comments to the National Forest must be submitted in writing to the designated email and post office mailing addresses, which will be posted at the website for George Washington and Jefferson National Forests in Virginia, which also has a public comment in place for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

“All of the comments that we get will be read, they will be sorted by their commonality,” Goodrich-Arling said. “Those will be looked at by resource specialists.”

Since the permit to survey is separate from pipeline construction, the forest service can only make its decision to accept or deny the special use application based on the specific conditions of surveying. If approved, the surveying would be done by contractors and overseen by the forest service.

“They’ll be gathering information on a variety of resources, including doing shovel testing for archaeologic information, doing soil testing, looking for hydraulic features. They’ll be doing botanical surveys. They’ll be doing wildlife surveys,” she said.

“If you find a resource issue within the wider 3,000-foot area, it allows you to move the line to one side or the other to avoid a particular area. They might find a spring, for example, in the hillside and realize that if they could move the line 500-feet they would be completely avoiding that particular issue,” she said.

“I don’t yet know how we will be field checking, what our field checking procedures will be. We will have them, we will have our botanists, our biologists will also be working alongside them, or doing spot checks, or we’ll be running their data that they’ve collected through our specialists and maybe even other specialists that we know who are resource experts.

“For example, cheat mountain salamander. There is one professor in the state of West Virginia, who is extremely well-known as being the person to go to if you want to talk about cheat mountain salamander information. So we might, we haven’t made these plans so I don’t want to say we will, but we might for example bring him into the process and have him look at the information.”

Goodrich-Arling said she is well-aware of concern about the pipeline proposal; in fact, the Forest Service has its own concerns, which it will be submitting to FERC.

“All of the issues people are raising now as potential long-term water issues or scenic issues or impact of threatened and endangered species habitat, we’re really cognizant of that and frankly we have some concerns about location that they’re interested in because building a pipeline across that would be fragmenting some areas that we’ve spent a lot of time trying to reconnect,” she said.

“And we will certainly be commenting to FERC that we have some concerns with building a pipeline in this area,” Goodrich-Arling said.

All comments to Forest Service collected will be held in files in Elkins, not sent to FERC. The comments are open to the public.

“If some person wanted to come review all of the comments made on this after we have made a decision, we are required by law to allow them to come in and do that. That has happened a couple of times over the years on different decisions, that we’ve had somebody come in and say, ‘hey, I just want to read those comments,’ but we don’t post it online, we don’t mail it to FERC, it just stays in a physical file,” she said.

Story By

Kelly Taber

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