The Nelson County Board of Supervisors is calling on Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe and state environmental officials to ensure public access to erosion and sediment control plans for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. In a 4-0 vote (July 14, 2015), the supervisors passed a resolution requesting that:
- DEQ will require project-specific Erosion and Sediment Control and Stormwater Management Plans for the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline project that meet all Virginia standards, and that these plans will be made available to the public prior to project approval and construction; and
- Localities will have the right to review plans, conduct inspections and enforce their local Erosion and Sediment Control Ordinances; and
- Prior to project approval and construction, Dominion Transmission, Inc. officials and third-party inspectors will be required to meet with local officials to discuss the implementation of the project-specific Erosion and Sediment Control and Stormwater Management Plans and adaptive management plans.
This sets a meaningful precedent for other local governments, organizations, and citizens that seek to protect water resources from harm associated with pipeline construction.
WHY DOES IT MATTER?
E&SC plans are fundamental for protection of water resources from damage by careless construction practices.
E&SC plans should provide details about the construction site (slope, soil type, stream crossings, wetlands, seepage areas, watershed areas, etc.), the project design (size and location of the pipeline trench, placement of excavated material, access roads, staging areas, etc.), and the design and location of erosion control structures and devices (runoff diversions, silt fences, check dams, sediment ponds, etc.) – all provided to scale in engineering drawings. These plans are what guide the construction process, and what the company presents as evidence that it has done the necessary planning for compliance with Virginia’s Erosion and Sediment Control law and regulations.
The plans are also supposed to include calculations and designs for control of post-construction runoff (the placement of infiltration areas, permanent retention ponds, etc.) to prevent changes in runoff properties (increases in the frequency and duration of peak flows) that alter stream channels and damage habitat for fish and other aquatic life.
Very briefly: the problem is that the DEQ doesn’t have or has not allocated the resources to review E&SC plans and doesn’t do any inspections for compliance unless there are water quality complaints. The DEQ relies on pipeline construction companies to do their own plan review and inspections. Although the company must hire certified plan reviewers and inspectors, the work is done by people hired by and therefore not independent of the company. The fox is indeed guarding the hen house.
We have already seen that Dominion and its contractors are willing to cut corners. See this article about repeated and protracted water quality violations last year at a Dominion pipeline project in WV. Business as usual for pipeline construction companies involves the expectation that they can get away with almost anything. No one is really in control and no one has been watching.
Another problem is that Dominion and other companies operate under Annual Standards and Specifications, which is what allows them to do their own E&SC plan review and inspection program. Oversight of all other construction projects is by local governments, counties and cities. The DEQ has oversight of pipeline projects, but it doesn’t exercise its authority or meet its responsibilities. The DEQ doesn’t even have the resources to review the Annual Standards and Specifications submitted by the pipeline companies!
Regardless of DEQ’s shortcomings, the laws and regulations are still in place, but it’s up to citizens and local government to make them work. And given the steep mountains, high quality streams, and complex hydrology that the ACP will cross, we had better step up and do it. However, the only way the public will have access to E&SC plans in time to review and provide input before project approval and construction is if the DEQ obtains the plans. But that’s not going to happen without an explicit policy decision:
- DEQ officials don’t know whether they will request site-specific E&SC plans for the ACP
- DEQ officials don’t know when they will decide
- no application has been submitted that would require them to make a decision
The last point is critical. There will likely be nothing submitted to DEQ that will require a decision.
Pipeline companies that operate under Annual Standards and Specifications can wait until the last minute to submit their registration under the general construction permit, and that registration is nothing more than a form with check boxes. The Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP), which is a compilation of related documents kept on site at the construction project, may or may not include E&SC plans, and it’s not available until after construction starts —far too late for meaningful public access.
One way to ensure a more meaningful process is for the DEQ to require an individual permit rather than a general permit. In theory, that is one way that the DEQ can require submission of site specific E&SC plans.
But the easiest thing for DEQ to do now is to do nothing.
And that is just what the DEQ will do unless the public and local government are able to persuade our state officials, the Governor, the Secretary of Natural Resources, and the Director of the DEQ to take steps to make the E&SC plans available. There really is no justification for them not doing this.
Our Governor has promised that the ACP will be, in his words, “the most environmentally responsible pipeline project in the history of the United States.” He cannot keep that promise if he allows the ACP to go forward without meaningful public oversight and accountability?