The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF), in the closing days of the McAuliffe administration, rolled back restrictions on construction in streams to help Dominion and Atlantic Coast Pipeline developers move the project along faster. The modifications granted, which were pursuant to a September 8, 2017 request from Dominion Energy, would effectively weaken protections for Virginia water and wildlife, were made without public input or notice from Virginia to the public, despite widespread opposition to the project. Dominion had previously agreed to all of the restrictions as set out in the project’s environmental impact statement, but it sought waivers to the Time of Year Restrictions (TOYRs) because the company could not meet its original construction schedule.
The revelation was announced June 28 by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), which obtained the information through documents obtained through the Virginia Freedom of Information Act. In a June 22 letter to Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources Matt Strickler, who oversees VDGIF, SELC said:
The waivers granted include rescission of the rainbow, brook, and brown trout TOYRs on the Jackson River, one of Virginia’s premier trout rivers, and permission to conduct in-stream construction on at least six Cowpasture River tributaries during the James Spinymussel TOYR. For other streams, such as Stuart Run, Morris Run, Dowell’s Draft, and Back Creek (Augusta County), VDGIF agreed to totally rescind the applicable trout TOYRs. For thirteen Mill Creek tributaries, the agency offered to allow in-stream construction during the James Spinymussel restricted period. In many cases, VDGIF made waivers more extensive than what Atlantic and Dominion had asked for.
Continuing, SELC pointed out to Secretary Strickler:
These rescissions and alterations of TOYRs put in place to protect important public resources are not consistent with the Governor’s promise to protect Virginia rivers and streams from harm caused by pipeline construction and should be reversed. We further request that Virginia publicly commit to strict enforcement of the various resource protection measures imposed by state agencies, and that Virginia will not grant requests for alteration or waiver of these restricted periods and other protective measures without formal public notice and at least a 30-day comment period.