United States Forest Service has made a draft decision to allow the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to cross the Monongahela National Forest and the George Washington National Forest. That it is only a draft decision means that this is what the Forest Service has pretty much made up its mind to do. It will receive objections to the decision until September 5, 2017, and will address any objections Then it will issue a final decision, a decision that will almost certainly be almost identical to the draft.
The Forest Service has also announced that it will make amendments to the Forest Plans for the two Forests. Every ten to fifteen years, each National Forests must make Forest Plans that serve as guides for the management of the Forest. The Plans for the Monongahela National Forest and the George Washington National Forest do not allow a big pipeline through the Forests so the Forest Service will amend the Plans so that they are compatible with a pipeline crossing the Forests. It will modify Plan standards for Utility Corridors, Soil and Riparian, Threatened and Endangered Species, Old Growth Management Area, Eligible Recreational River Access, Appalachian National Scenic Trail Area, and Scenic Integrity Objectives.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission was the lead agency in preparing the Environmental Impact Statement for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project. Because of this, the Forest Service did not do its own analysis of the effects of the Pipeline, whether alternatives (including not building the pipeline at all) would be more environmentally sound, etc.
The Forest Service ends up reaching largely the same conclusion as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission did. It concluded that there would be some environmental damage including the potential for: project-induced landslides on steep slopes; long term impacts related to slope instability adjacent to waterbodies (impacting water quality, stream channel geometry, and downstream aquatic biota); creation of additional forest edge habitat through fragmentation; and significant impacts associated with karst, cave, subterranean habitat, and the species associated with subterranean habitat.
It said that these damages would mostly occur during construction and if Dominion was careful it could avoid the worst of it. It also said that there would be damage to the Forests but concluded that not building the pipeline would result in economic and social costs. If not building the pipeline resulted in companies in North Carolina burning more coal or fuel oil to make electricity then the result might be more environmental damage.
The decision was not made by our local Forest Service staff but by Regional Foresters in Atlanta and Milwaukee.