By Cindy Rank
Last month’s Highlands Voice (October 2020) explained the legal challenge by WV Highlands Conservancy and seven co-plaintiffs to the recently reissued Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) stream crossing permit for the Mountain Valley Pipeline to cross 1,000 streams along its 303-mile path through West Virginia and Virginia.
In late October the same set of plaintiffs challenged the US Fish and Wildlife Service approval and are seeking a stay from that agency based on what we contend is a flawed Biological Opinion.
Since the first opinion came out in 2017, the candy darter has been added to the list of endangered species. In seeking the stay, the groups also contend that the biological opinion failed to adequately consider how fish would be affected by increased sedimentation caused by the steel pipe crossing hundreds of streams, or how the Indiana and northern long-eared bats would survive the clearing of forests they inhabit.
The environmental groups take issue with the conclusion that the colorful darter and the Roanoke logperch would not be adversely impacted by boring under the Gauley River in West Virginia and Stony Creek in Giles County.
As for bats, the letter states the Fish and Wildlife Service improperly downplayed the effects of cutting down roost trees to clear a 125-foot-wide right of way for the pipeline.
In addition to bats and fish, pipeline construction is likely to threaten two kinds of freshwater mussels — the clubshell and snuffbox.
The groups have also asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit to review the biological opinion the Service relied on to decide that construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline is not likely to jeopardize protected fish, bats and mussels.
Where do things stand?
The Corps stream crossing permit case is ongoing and the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals has scheduled a hearing for early November. If granted the permit will affect the specific 1,000 stream crossing areas.
The Forest Service approval has yet to be decided for the pipeline to cross the Jefferson National Forest in southeastern WV and VA. The comment period on the new Forest Service environmental impact statement ends in mid-November and the Service anticipates a decision by years end.
If the Fish and Wildlife approval is granted it will impact much more of the construction area along the 303-mile pipeline path than either the stream or Forest crossings.
In addition to the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, the groups taking part in these actions are Sierra Club, Appalachian Voices, Wild Virginia, the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, Preserve Giles County, Preserve Bent Mountain, the Indian Creek Watershed Association, Defenders of Wildlife, the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and the Center for Biological Diversity.