Virginia panel approves water quality certification for Atlantic Coast Pipeline

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RICHMOND, Va. (WHSV) — UPDATE (1:45 p.m. Dec. 12):

The Virginia State Water Control Board has voted 4-3 to approve a water quality certification for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, thought it is not immediately effective.

Department of Environmental Quality spokesman Bill Hayden says the permit won't take effect until several additional studies are reviewed and approved by the department. They include soil and erosion control plans and stormwater management plans.

This follows a vote by the board last week to also approve the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

The decision means the board found that there is "reasonable assurance" that water along the pipeline's route would not be contaminated during construction.

Many of the concerns brought up during the second day of hearings were about the impact of the pipeline construction in areas of karst.

According to a study commissioned last year by organizations including the Sierra Club of Virginia, it can be hazardous to build anything on karst, a landscape formed by the dissolving of bedrock that can be found in western portions of Virginia.

Some of the issues mentioned in the report include groundwater contamination, surface collapses, and accelerated erosion.

Dominion Energy, however, has assured the public that it will follow water protection requirements set by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to "provide reasonable assurance that water quality standards are maintained."

Pipeline spokesman Aaron Ruby says the company is evaluating some of the additional conditions and will have a full statement later Tuesday.

An environmental assessment of the pipeline released in July by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission stated most adverse environmental impacts pipeline construction would cause could be reduced to insignificant levels.

Back in October, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission voted to approve both the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley natural gas pipelines, giving Dominion the authority to use eminent domain to acquire land if they can't reach an agreement with a landowner in construction of the pipeline.

Throughout the course of Tuesday's hearing, in the second of two days, members of anti-pipeline groups interrupted by shouting questions, at one point leading to a 20-minute recess due to the disruption.

Governor Terry McAuliffe told Avery Powell on Tuesday that he is demanding the pipeline be built in the most environmentally safe way, according to the state's regulatory agencies. He's previously called it the "jobs pipeline," in agreement with the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, who has argued that it will provide thousands of jobs and lead to more business opportunities for the state.

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State regulators will soon decide whether to grant a key approval to the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

The Virginia State Water Control Board will meet for a second day Tuesday to consider whether to issue a water quality certification for the natural gas pipeline that would cross West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina. An executive of Dominion Energy, the pipeline's lead developer, has also said the project could expand into South Carolina.

The board is charged with determining whether there is "reasonable assurance" water along the route won't be contaminated during construction of the 600-mile underground pipeline.

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline would originate in Harrison County, West Virginia, and extend to Chesapeake, Virginia, and Robeson County, North Carolina. The natural gas line would travel through land in Augusta and Nelson counties.

Dominion insists the pipeline can be built safely. Opponents say it will degrade water quality.

In November, the U.S. Forest Service granted approval for the project, a month after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission signed off on it.

The board issued a certification last week for the Mountain Valley natural gas pipeline, which would cross western Virginia.

Melanie Davenport, the Director of Water Permitting for the Department of Environmental Quality, acknowledged opponents' concerns about the federal approval process, and fears about safety, but said her agency's focus is much narrower.

"What we're bound to do is look at the statutes and regulations that we have authority to implement and utilize," said Davenport.

WHSV's Jared Kline is in Richmond to track the latest on the meeting. He says several members of anti-pipeline groups have tried to interrupt by shouting questions out, hissing and snapping their fingers.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.