The mountains received some severe windy and rainy weather during March and April. Driving through the mountain’s unpaved roads you can see the evidence in the form of numerous potholes, significant erosion and downed trees that have been cut back to allow vehicles to pass. It appears that the same weather patterns will continue into May.
FERC Denies FreedomWorks, LLC, (FreedomWorks) Preliminary Permit Application
As mentioned in the April Highlands Voice, on January 31, 2019 the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) sent a letter to the Forest Service asking that if FreedomWorks files for the special use permit, would the Forest Service would allow access to lands within the Monongahela National Forest (MNF) to conduct licensing studies that would include land disturbing activities.
March 4, 2019 the Forest Service responded that it has determined that Freedom Works’ licensing studies proposed in the SUP proposal are not consistent with the management goals, objectives, and standards identified in the Forest Plan for Management Prescriptions. Therefore, because Freedom Works’ proposal to the MNF had been denied, Freedom Works will not be able to access NFS lands within the MNF to conduct licensing studies for the proposed Big Run Project.
March 17, 2019 and again on March 18, 2019, FreedomWorks filed requesting that FERC continue with the process to grant preliminary permit number, while they work through an appeal to the U.S. Forest Service for reconsideration of their decision. No response has been received from FERC to date.
On April 12 FERC denied the preliminary permit application stating. “The Forest Service has made clear through its January 3 and March 11 comments that it would be unlikely to issue a special use authorization for the project should it be licensed; and that it has denied FreedomWorks to enter Forest Service lands to conduct feasibility studies under a preliminary permit, which are necessary to the development of a license application for the proposed project within the Monongahela Forest. Although the upper reservoir and part of the lower reservoir would be located on private land, the project is partially located on and surrounded by the Monongahela Forest, and the location where FreedomWorks proposes to conduct drilling would be on Forest Service land. Thus, FreedomWorks would not be able to determine the feasibility of the proposed project without permission from the Forest Service to access the land within the Monongahela Forest. The Commission has previously determined that it would be ineffectual to issue preliminary permits for non-federal projects at federal facilities if the agencies that operate the facilities indicate opposition to the proposed projects. Similarly, there would be no purpose in issuing a preliminary permit here where the Forest Service has indicated that it is unlikely to issue the necessary authorizations for the project. Accordingly, FreedomWorks’ preliminary permit application is denied.”
FreedomWorks, LLC may file a request for rehearing of the FERC denial within 30 days of the date of its issuance, as provided in section 313(a) of the Federal Power Act, 16 U.S.C. § 825l.
The comments filed by the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, Friends of Blackwater, West Virginia River Coalition, Sierra Club, and concerned citizens were not the grounds for this denial because they relate to the construction and operation of the proposed project and are premature at the permit stage.
It will be interesting to see if FreedomWorks, LLC requests a rehearing.
ACP Pipeline Issues
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline has now faced setbacks, including decisions of the courts under lawsuits by landowners and conservationists.
Fish and Wildlife Case Is Set for Oral Argument on May 9
The lawsuit challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) biological opinion and incidental take statement for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) that led to work stopping on the project is scheduled for oral argument on Thursday, May 9 before a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. The original FWS permit was voided by the Fourth Circuit in May 2018 in response to a lawsuit filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) on behalf of Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club and the Virginia Wilderness Committee. A new FWS permit was issued on September 11, 2018 and is being challenged in this case.
Southern Environmental Law Center argues that the Fish and Wildlife Service’s reissued permit relied on a series of irrational assumptions that mischaracterized the potential impact of the ACP route on the Rusty Patch Bumble Bee and erred in its analysis of the project’s impact on three other endangered species: the Clubshell Mussel, Indiana Bat and Madison Cave Isopod.
The petitioners are requesting that the Court vacate the reissued biological opinion and incidental take permit.
New CSI Website Goes Live
West Virginia Highlands Conservancy is a member organization of the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance (ABRA) whose Compliance Surveillance Initiative (CSI) among other things maintains a website as a resource for key documents, studies, regulatory actions and other pipeline issue developments.
A redesign of the website for ABRA’s Compliance Surveillance Initiative (CSI) program has been activated this week. The site has a new address (http://abra-csi.org/) and is designed to be very user-friendly. The site, which was created by ABRA Communications Coordinator Deirdre Skogen, includes instructions on how you as a volunteer can become involved in the program, examples of non-compliance issues and numerous technical resources, including the unique CSI mapping system that links to surveillance photographs taken by the ABRA/CSI Pipeline Air Force. You are invited to use the new website as a resource. If you have questions, please direct them to mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.
May promises to be another busy month for the Conservancy as well as other environmental organizations and we will keep you informed, as events occur, through the Highlands Voice.