By Tate Mikkelsen
The four companies behind the Atlantic Coast Pipeline have agreed to pay $58 million to Virginia to compensate for the clearing or thinning of forests along the construction route.
The underground Atlantic Coast Pipeline is a 600-mile interstate natural gas pipeline running through West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina.
It is being developed by four energy companies: Dominion Energy, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and Southern Company Gas.
The $58 million will be paid to the state, which will then distribute the funds to environmental groups.
“The money goes to semi-governmental places in Virginia or it goes to conservation groups,” said Brian Coy, a spokesman for Gov. Ralph Northam. “This just means that Virginians who are giving something up have something to show for it.”
The agreement is part of the process that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission requires states and contractors to go through when they are attempting to obtain necessary permits for construction.
The builders of the 300-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline that is supposed to run through West Virginia to Virginia signed a similar agreement in December to pay over $27 million to mitigate the environmental impact in Virginia.
Coy said the Atlantic Coast Pipeline agreement does not mean that its builders have been given approval to proceed. Instead, it will hold the companies responsible to compensate for the value of trees lost during construction.
Angela Navarro, deputy secretary of the Department of Natural Resources, said the agreement does not prohibit discussion about other issues.
She also said the agreement does not cover any unexpected damage to the environment and land that may take place during construction.
Since the project’s beginning, environmental coalitions have opposed the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s construction, citing concerns over removal of trees and possible contamination of water quality in particular.
Kirk Bowers, the pipeline program manager of the Sierra Club, an environmental group, said he believes the pipelines should not be built, and the deal was not transparent to the public.
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline has also run into opposition from landowners.
Last week, the companies behind the pipeline filed an eminent domain suit against the Fenton family, owners of a Bavarian style inn in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline initially offered the Fenton Inn just over $1,000 for compensation. The Fentons declined the offer and a subsequent possible payment of $2,000.
The offers were intended to only pay for the land that the pipeline would directly run through, Fenton said.
“It’s like if I took an apple, and I took a bite out of the apple. Dominion just wants to pay for the bite out of the apple, but the rest of the apple is now a diminished item,” he said. “So, if I go and try to sell this property with a pipeline, the value of it is going to be diminished.”
Now, the pipeline companies are arguing, as agents of the government, that they can seize private land for public use.
Fenton said it is important that landowners know their rights when they are approached by builders of such projects.
“There are a lot of people that get bullied into settling with [Dominion’s] low ball offers because they don’t feel like they have any rights,” he said.
Fenton said he has been fighting the pipeline for about four years.
“The idea of potentially losing half of your equity in your business, that’s a big hit,” he said.
Aaron Ruby, a spokesman for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, failed to respond to several requests for comment from the Rockbridge Report.
The agreement signed by Virginia and the companies behind the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. (Source: Department of Natural Resources)