Dominion Resources today submitted revised applications for conversion of open space on 10 Virginia Outdoors Foundation easements in Highland, Bath, Augusta and Nelson counties that lie in the path of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
The applications will be considered by the VOF board of trustees at its next meeting in Richmond on February 9, 2017. They can be downloaded here.
Dominion first submitted draft applications in May 2016 to VOF’s Energy and Infrastructure Committee. Since then, the applications have been adjusted based on route revisions, input from multiple stakeholders and agencies, VOF requests, and issues raised during the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) review process, which determines siting and approval of the pipeline.
In its revised applications, Dominion is seeking a permanent right-of-way within which to construct the underground pipeline. VOF staff have worked with both Dominion and the affected landowners throughout the process to ensure minimal impact to the easements and maximum protection of the public’s interest in the conservation values being affected. This includes reducing the requested right-of-way from 75 feet in the draft applications to 50 feet. It also includes prohibiting above-ground structures, prohibiting future additional pipelines, and restoring the surface area with native grasses and pollinator habitat. Other restrictions in the VOF easements will also remain in effect.
In addition, VOF staff provided significant input on the substitute land included in the applications to ensure that it would provide maximum benefit to the public if the easement conversions occur.
In the fall of 2016, VOF learned that an 11th easement in Nelson County could be impacted by a proposed alternate route, and voiced its opposition to FERC. In its draft Environmental Impact Statement issued on December 30, FERC wrote that it does not recommend that route.
VOF’s trustees will, on February 9, determine whether the applications meet the requirements of § 10.1-1704 of the Code of Virginia, which says, “No open-space land, the title to or interest or right in which has been acquired under this chapter and which has been designated as open-space land under the authority of this chapter, shall be converted or diverted from open-space land use unless (i) the conversion or diversion is determined by the public body to be (a) essential to the orderly development and growth of the locality and (b) in accordance with the official comprehensive plan for the locality in effect at the time of conversion or diversion and (ii) there is substituted other real property which is (a) of at least equal fair market value, (b) of greater value as permanent open-space land than the land converted or diverted and (c) of as nearly as feasible equivalent usefulness and location for use as permanent open-space land as is the land converted or diverted.”
“While our preference is to avoid VOF easements entirely, we believe that the requirements under section 1704 of the Open Space Land Act ensure that the public’s interest in our easements remains fully protected,” says VOF Executive Director Brett Glymph. “The key question our board will consider in February is does the Atlantic Coast Pipeline satisfy the requirements of the law.”