Comments filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission about the proposed restoration plan for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) universally called for easements on property along the 604-mile route of the now cancelled project to be relinquished by Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC (Atlantic). The deadline for all comments to be filed was 5 pm, April 16.
Representative of the concerns over easements was the filing by the Nelson County (Virginia) Administrator:
Because the project has been cancelled, there is no longer a “public use” justification for these easements. These easements impose a significant burden upon these landowners which has been proven to be unwarranted. They significantly diminish and limit the owner’s use of their properties and, therefore, reduce its value.
It is inevitable that the county tax assessments on these properties will be reduced due to the limitations that the easements put upon the landowner’s properties, costing a loss of county tax revenue on these properties. The impacted landowners who had their properties taken by eminent domain should “be made whole” in the process, for a pipeline that will not be built. FERC, having authorized this process and its consequences, bears the responsibility of creating a process whereby landowners can have their previous property rights fully restored as well as ecological restoration or full reimbursement of the economic costs of physical ecological restoration.
An array of conservation groups, most of which are ABRA members, represented by Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), Appalachian Mountain Advocates and Chesapeake Bay Foundation, filed comments highlighting serious shortcomings of the proposed ACP restoration plan as well as the restoration and disposition plan for the Supply Header Project, submitted last November by Eastern Gas Transmission and Storage (GTS), the successor company to Dominion Energy Transmission, Inc. Among the recommendations made by the groups were that FERC require Atlantic to:
- Release easements upon request from private landowners or open-space easement holders. They noted that the “easements represent a severe, continuing, and now wholly unwarranted burden on properties throughout the ACP’s 604-mile path.
- Afford all landowners the opportunity to communicate specific restoration requirements.
- Not engage in new tree-felling within established setbacks around wetlands and waterbodies.
- Treat non-native invasive species on National Forest lands to halt their spread.
- Be held responsible for all restoration work until it is determined that such restoration has been successful.
The conservation group comments also urged FERC not to extend the deadline of the Supply Header Project or otherwise authorize the project’s completion.
Concern over the property rights issue was strongly echoed by a business owner with properties in Northampton and Halifax Counties in North Carolina, Robinson Farms, LLC:
Given the untenable situation of balancing possibilities of economic benefit for distressed communities and the threat of eminent domain, we and other neighbors felt compelled to reach an agreement with the Atlantic Coast Pipeline for right of ways through our family lands. The power of eminent domain was granted to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline with the issuance of the Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity. Under this threat of eminent domain, landowners were faced with minimal choices regarding their own properties. Since the Federal Energy Regulatory (FERC) authorized this process, we respectively request that the Commission take part in helping rectify the subsequent consequences by ensuring our community and its lands are restored to their previous condition.
Continuing, Robinson Farms’ comments expressed alarm over environmental consequences of the “mess” left by the ACP.
In Northampton and Halifax Counties of North Carolina, we currently have an unsightly mess. The now-abandoned Atlantic Coast Pipeline project right of ways have intrusively cut through our lands and farms. The underground pipe is deteriorating from the elements due to its lack of cathodic and/or any other protections and posing a future safety hazard to heavy farming equipment from soil subsidence when the metal eventually deteriorates and collapses. The pipe abandoned on the surface of some properties is also deteriorating from exposure to the elements. This is creating potential safety, environmental and soil contamination issues.
The unreleased easements and abandoned underground pipe present an impediment to any property sale, transfer or future development. From a future development standpoint, housing needs in the area are constantly evolving. Abandoning the pipe in place as planned would present ongoing challenges should anyone need to install a septic system, drill a water well, pour concrete foundations, etc. As FERC contemplates a decision on this matter, please keep in mind that we did not ask for or seek out this invasion of our property or time, but in good faith made an effort to collaborate and act upon the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s initial request. All that we are asking in return is for our properties to be restored as closely as possible to their original state.
The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation urged in its comments to FERC caution in allowing restoration work to result in new access roads.
The construction of additional roads, clearing of vegetation and timber, and related activities would likely result in more resource impacts, than if cut timber were allowed to decompose in place in areas that have not already been subject to ground disturbing activities. If the respective landowners are agreeable to this option, DCR recommends this course of action to minimize impacts to natural heritage resources, consistent with the no tree removal action that will occur on the USFS lands and allowing native forest to regenerate.
The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality stated in its comments that it expects Atlantic to fully comply with the state’s Sedimentation Pollution Control Act of 1973 and with the 401 Wager Quality Certification the department issued to the project in January 2018.
It is not known at this time how long FERC will take to analyze the comments that have been filed and arrive at a decision about the ACP restoration plan that was submitted in early January. The plan’s schedule called for restoration work to continue into mid-2023.