The United States Forest Service has approved the crossing of the George Washington and Monongahela National Forests by the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
This is no surprise. In July, 2017, the Forest Service issued a draft decision, saying that it intended to approve the pipeline. Then it gave the public a few weeks to make comments, reviewed the comments, and made that decision final. After all the time this matter has been pending, the chances were slim that the Forest Service was going to slap itself on the forehead and say, “Oh my goodness, we made a mistake. We have to deny this request!”
A tiny bit of background, just to make the description of what they did make sense
Every ten to fifteen years, each National Forests must make Forest Plans that serve as guides for the management of the Forest. When the Plans for the Monongahela National Forest and the George Washington National Forest were made, nobody (except maybe the developers if they were making plans way far ahead) had thought about a big pipeline through the Forests. As a result, the Plans do not mention a big pipeline. Since then the Forest Surface has now considered a big pipeline crossing the Forests. Since that is not in the Forest Plans, the Forest Service has to amend the Plans before the pipeline could be allowed to cross.
Even if the Forest Plans for the Monongahela and George Washington National Forests, once amended, allows a pipeline right of way as an acceptable use of Forest land, the ACP still must have a Special Use Permit. Such a permit is required for any commercial non-recreational activities on Forest lands.
What the Forest Service did
The Forest Service issued a final Record of Decision to issue a Special Use Permit and amend the George Washington National Forest and Monongahela National Forest (MNF) Land and Resource Management Plans. The authorizes the use and occupancy of National Forest lands for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline Project, and approves project specific amendments for the George Washington and Monongahela National Forest Plans. The Forest Service has issued the required Special Use Permit for the Project.
The Special Use Permit places conditions upon the pipeline. The decision assumes that if these conditions are followed “the ACP project will be implemented without impairing the long-term productivity of NFS lands.”
The final decision does the following:
- Authorizes the use and occupancy of National Forest System (NFS) lands for the ACP Project.
- Amends the standards in the Plan to allow the construction and operation of the ACP Project to vary from certain restrictions on soil and riparian corridor conditions. Mitigation measures to protect soil and riparian areas would be required.
- Allows the issuance of special use permits in northern long-eared bat habitat where applicable mitigation measures will be implemented.
- Designates a 50-foot-wide permanent right-of-way. No utility corridor would be designated; therefore a Plan level amendment on the GWNF to allocate lands into a 5-C Designated Utility Corridor would not be needed.
- Allows the ACP Project to cross under the Appalachian National Scenic Trail (ANST) in Augusta County, VA at a location where existing impacts do not already exist.
- Performs reconstruction of portions of a Forest Road within a Management Prescription Area 2C3-Eligible Recreational Rivers to provide access for pipeline construction.
- Allows the ACP Project a five-year period to perform mitigation to meet Forest Plan scenic integrity objectives for areas of high scenic value and other high use recreation areas, except for a short segment of the Shenandoah Mountain Trail, where the scenic integrity objectives would be changed to Low.
Who made the decision
The decision was not made by the officials and managers of the Monongahela and George Washington National Forests. Although they had collected information and evaluated the project when it was proposed, the decision was jointly issued by the Forest Service’s Southern and Eastern Regional Foresters.