UVA scientist warns of dire environmental impacts if the proposed natural gas pipeline goes through Highland County
At their meeting on August 19th, Highlanders for Responsible Development [HRD] chairman Lewis Freeman said their group had yet to take a formal position on the Dominion Resources Southeast Reliability Project, a natural gas pipeline that would run through parts of West Virginia and Virginia, including Highland County. Rick Webb, a member on the board of directors for HRD, a Highland County resident, and a senior scientist at the University of Virginia, has taken a formal position on the pipeline, one that is firmly in opposition.
Webb sees the pipeline putting the natural resources of the county in peril. Referring to a map of the proposed pipeline, Webb told the large crowd gathered at the Highland center that it would cross a considerable amount of sensitive habitat including sections of the George Washington national forest and Virginia wildlife management areas. Webb showed pictures of a 42” natural gas pipeline under construction in Nebraska, saying a 42 foot wide trench was excavated to allow for construction of the pipeline. Dominion is proposing to use a 42” pipeline in Pocahontas and Highland counties. Webb said the trench needed for construction could be even wider than that used in Nebraska. He said there may be no precedent for construction of such a large pipeline in steep terrain like that found in the Allegheny highlands.
The pipeline path would cross eight Highland County mountain ridges at elevations of 3000 to 4200 feet: Tamarack Ridge, Red Oak Knob, Lantz Mountain, Monterey Mountain, Jack Mountain, Doe Hill, Bullpasture Mountain and Shenandoah Mountain. It’s not just the view shed that concerns Webb; he fears the resulting forest fragmentation caused by the construction of the pipeline could have adverse impacts on the flora and fauna of the region, including the loss of dependent species, the introduction of invasive species and the loss of habitat for sensitive species such as the Indiana bat and the Cow Knob salamander.
Webb said the Indiana bat, on the endangered species list, is known to inhabit a number of caves within 50 miles of the pipeline path. Dominion may be required to get an Incidental Take Permit prior to construction. The Cow Knob salamander is protected under a forest service conservation agreement and has been observed in several areas close to the pipeline route. Webb said the pipeline would also cross most of the major streams in the county, many of which also provide native brook trout habitat.
Of special concern to Webb is the Laurel Fork watershed, describing it as one of the most highly valued wild areas in Virginia and the state’s only example of an Alleghenian ecosystem with a multitude of known state rare species.
Karst terrain is another concern according to Webb, saying 50% of the county is underlain by the porous rock formations. A large number of sinkholes have been mapped across the county, some in the vicinity of the pipeline route. Dominion has proposed to monitor springs and wells within 200 feet of the pipeline, but Webb say that’s not sufficient given this kind of terrain.
Webb claims that what sets the proposal apart from other alternatives is that the route would cross 50 miles of national forest land and other areas set aside for conservation, would cross much of the best remaining wild landscape in the state, would affect multiple high quality streams and karst hydrology and could have adverse impacts on protected species. In weighing all that he urges his fellow Highlanders to oppose the pipeline project.
Selected links to information on natural gas pipelines – courtesy of Highlanders for Responsible Development
Interstate natural gas pipeline on my land – what do I need to know? Published by Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
Dominion Resources link on the Southern Reliability Project
Virginia statute to permit natural gas companies to enter private property
Gas transmission lines Q & A
Natural gas pipelines – a 2011 assessment by the Nature Conservancy, Pennsylvania Chapter of the impact of a new pipeline built in Bradford County, PA
Gas pipeline boom fragmenting Pennsylvania’s forests
A pipeline threatens our family land